Let me take you inside my head for a second. It’s Game 5 of the ALDS against Texas. Do or die. Tie game, seventh inning. Two men on. Two outs.
I was standing in the on-deck circle when we knocked in the tying run, and the crowd just exploded. Imagine standing there on the field and looking up at 50,000 people going crazy. Then I took that lonely walk to the plate with everything on the line.
I wish you could have heard my thoughts in that moment. It’s the closest I have ever felt to being a superhero. I felt like I was Batman, and the villain had the girl dangling off the edge of the building. My adrenaline wasn’t 10-out-of-10. It was ten-million-out-of-10.
The stage was set.
I was so locked in that all I could see was the pitcher. Everything else was out of focus. It was so loud that it was quiet.
Think about the odds of being the person standing there at the plate in that moment.
There have only been roughly 18,000 players in the history of Major League Baseball. How many out of that number have played in a playoff game? One third maybe? I’ve played over 1,400 games, and that was my first playoff series. Out of those 6,000 or so, how many players have been lucky enough to be in a position to change the outcome of a playoff series with one swing? Maybe 10 percent? And how many have succeeded?
None of this math was going through my head when I was standing at the plate. That came later on, when I had time to reflect at home. All I was thinking in the moment was, This is your chance. Just relax. Get ready early. See it and hit it.
When you’re in that situation, you’re playing a role in a show. I’m not Jose Bautista. I’m the guy trying to be the superhero. I’m coming through. I’m going to make something happen.
When the pitch came in, I turned on it. It was just a natural reaction, just like I’ve done hundreds of times before.
There’s no sound in the world like the crack a baseball makes on the sweet spot of my maple Marucci. You blink on contact. The immediate roar of the crowd lifts your sights to see where the ball is going. Imagine the feeling of watching it land in the seats. How would you feel? What would you do?
There was no script. I didn’t plan it. It just happened.
I flipped my bat.
It wasn’t out of contempt for the pitcher. It wasn’t because I don’t respect the unwritten rules of the game. I was caught up in the emotion of the moment.
Some of the Rangers took exception to it, which I can understand. They were on the other side of that emotion. I’ve been there before. I know how it feels. I’ve been pissed off on a baseball field plenty of times. I’m no angel. Is it out of disrespect? Of course not. It’s because you’re upset and want to win so badly. That’s just part of the game.
After the game, some of the backlash from small sections of the media took on a familiar tone. I’ve heard this before.
“Disrespectful, mocking, showboating.”
One MLB Network analyst went as far as questioning my “character” and my “leadership.”
Were these same opinions expressed when Carlton Fisk “waved” his home run fair in ’75? Or when Joe Carter jumped around the bases in ’93? When I was growing up and I watched iconic moments like those, I was so caught up in the emotion that I got chills. I wasn’t thinking about the implications. I was fully immersed in the moment and enjoying it. I loved Cal Ripken Jr. for his poise and control. But I also admired Reggie Jackson for showing his passion and flair.
It’s true. I’m different. I come from a different baseball culture. But so what?
Those moments are spontaneous. They’re human. And they’re a whole lot of fun.
But nowadays, when a player flips his bat, especially a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, a small section of people always seem to turn it into a debate about the integrity of the game.
It’s true. I’m different. I come from a different baseball culture. But so what? Why does that have to be a bad thing? The beautiful thing about America is that it’s a melting pot. Every year, thousands of kids in Latin America give up their education to chase their dream. For the tiny, less than 3 percent chance that they will one day take an at-bat in the Big Leagues.
As I’ve written before, they do not take this gamble out of foolishness, they do it because they have no other choice for a better life. They see it as their chance to live the American dream — and take their families out of poverty. In a sense, they can become their family’s hero.
For the ones who make it into an MLB organization, the cultural change can be a real shock. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen incredible players get labeled as lazy or disrespectful based on shallow assumptions like “body language.” (But more on that another time.)
The reality is that these guys came up playing baseball in an entirely different atmosphere. Come down to the Dominican Republic and experience it yourself. We’re loud. We’re emotional. We’re always singing and dancing. We love to laugh and have a good time. It’s ingrained in our DNA. And it doesn’t change when we’re playing baseball. To us, baseball isn’t a country club game. It’s our national pastime, and it comes packed with emotion.
I played winter ball in the Dominican the first nine years of my pro career. When you get a hit, people in the crowd will start playing trumpets and horns and the cheerleaders will jump up on top of the dugout and start dancing. The fans stand up from the first inning to the ninth inning, and half the time they’re dancing, too. That’s part of the experience. When you hit a homerun in this atmosphere, you might flip your bat. You might pump your fist running around the bases. You might even point to the sky when you step on the plate (I see you, Big Papi). For the most part, pitchers don’t have a problem with it. They know they’re entitled to enjoy the moment when the script is flipped.
It’s all part of the show. And you’re kidding yourself if you think baseball isn’t a show. It’s a spectacle. It’s entertainment. If it wasn’t, then 11.5 million Canadians wouldn’t have tuned in to watch Game 5, and MLB’s TV contracts wouldn’t be worth what they’re worth.
Baseball is a metaphor for America. It’s a giant melting pot made up of people from all over the world and all walks of life. How can you expect everybody to be exactly the same? Act exactly the same? More importantly, why would you want them to?
Look at all the excitement around the 2015 playoffs. We live in a different time now. It’s not 1932 when Babe Ruth played (and called his shot). The entire world was following along with the drama on TV, social media, and the internet, and having a lot of fun with it. After I hit the home run against Texas, I got tens of thousands of people flooding my Twitter timeline. I got over 400 text messages. Over 200 e-mails. It was stupid. I’ve never seen so many message notifications on a phone before.
Someone sent me a video of a subway car in Toronto after the game. Everybody on the train was doing the olé soccer chant with my name. “Joséee, José, José Joséee!”
That felt amazing.
I also saw a video of a guy finishing his bowl of cereal and then flipping the spoon. Even the mayor of Toronto flipped a bat into a fountain. It turned into a social media frenzy.
I got over 400 text messages. Over 200 e-mails. It was stupid.
When you talk to people around MLB, everyone wants to expand the game globally, keep the younger demographic engaged, draw more people to the stadiums, and improve the pace of play. But in my eyes, there has never been a better time for Major League Baseball. Technology has allowed people to connect with the game in many different ways. On Twitter and Facebook, baseball is trending. In the ballparks, especially during the playoffs, cities and countries are buzzing with emotion (I see you, Canada).
But for whatever reason, there’s a small section of old-school, my-way-or-the-highway type of people who never want the game to evolve. They’re the dinosaurs who believe that everybody should play the same and act the same. They usually claim that it is out of “respect.”
In my opinion, true respect is about embracing the differences in people’s cultures. That’s what the melting pot of America is all about.
I flipped my bat. I’m human. The emotion got to me. It’s in my DNA. If you think that makes me a jerk, that’s fine. But let’s call it what it is. Let’s not have these loaded conversations about “character” and the integrity of the game every time certain players show emotion in a big moment. That kind of thinking is not just old school. It’s just ignorant.
And it is slowly becoming extinct.