interview by David King
Jose Bautista has come a long way in his time with the Blue Jays, and so has Toronto. From the ballpark to the boardroom, this All-Star outfielder has conquered it all, so who can blame him for enjoying his success? With the Jays riding a hot streak into the summer, the slugger talks about his career, who helped him along the way and how he spends his time off the field.
THE EARLY YEARS
What did you enjoy most about playing in the minor leagues?
The lifestyle and relationships created are what I enjoyed most out of those early minor league years. Finally being out on your own in the real world as a young adult chasing your dream was as exciting as it was scary, but those feelings are hard to replicate. The bond I had with my teammates, opponents, coaches and staff make up a big chunk of my best memories of minor league life. Going through those tough times together while traveling through small-town USA can create some pretty strong relationships between people.
With all of your success in baseball, are there days where you feel you need to remind yourself of those lean times in the minors?
The nature of professional baseball is something that keeps us very grounded at all times. This is a sport designed around struggle, not success, so it’s always easy to stay humble.
CANADA VS. AMERICA VS. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
While you showed flashes of talent in Pittsburgh, you really fulfilled your potential when you arrived in Toronto. What were your expectations when you made the move?
I was really excited about the opportunity. I had played baseball in Canada in the past, both in the minors and majors, and I knew exactly how great the fans were in Toronto. I immediately remembered the World Series victories of the 90′s because of the coverage they received in the DR and the huge Latino presence on those teams. Coming from a difficult personal situation in Pittsburgh, I was extremely happy about a fresh start.
During your first year in the major leagues in 2004, the last year of the Montreal Expos, you saw action on four teams – the Pirates being the only ones to play in the National League. Did you ever get to play at the Big O against the Expos?
Unfortunately I did not at the time but we have played spring training exhibition games there the last 2 years. What an electric place!
The Jays’ new pre-season series in Montreal has become hugely popular. Is the city ready for the return of baseball?
It sure seems like they are. I wish the city of Montreal and their fans the best of luck in their quest to bring baseball back.
Since arriving in 2008, how much change have you seen happen in Toronto?
It’s impossible not to notice the difference in the city and its growth. The culture of following the Blue Jays and our fans is so deep into the city roots that it seems like even the newcomers to the city immediately become fans; its great to see that kind of support. Fans here are dying for a Championship and it’s the players’ number one goal to bring it to them.
LEARNING THE NUANCES
Generally speaking, athletes don’t emerge as stars until their mid-to-late 20s. As in business, and especially in baseball, mentors are key to the learning process. Did you have any mentors in the game coming up through the Pirates system?
For sure. Tony Beasley was my manager during four different minor league seasons and he is by far the person I owe the most in my minor league career. Jeff Bannister and Brian Graham are two others who helped me out a ton.
Now that you’re a respected veteran in the game, are there any particular players you’ve taken under your wing?
I try to stay within my role of being the best player I can be and lead by example. That being said, I talk to all my teammates and they also talk to me about the game all the time.
ASCENDING TO STARDOM
The 2010 season was pure magic when you hit 54 home runs. What was it like to finally get the numbers you thought you were capable of?
The best thing was to get an opportunity and to be put in a situation to succeed without feeling pressure to perform. That’s what I remember allowed me to feel great about my personal situation within the club.
How have the fans in Toronto, back home in the Dominican and even the States embraced your success?
The support has been outstanding everywhere I go. I have nothing but love, respect and appreciation for my fans.
Aside from the financial rewards, what are some things that you’ve been able to achieve as a result of your professional success?
Having the ability to give back to the communities that I play in, have lived in and grew up in has been the most satisfying part of what I’ve been able to achieve off the field because of baseball.
THE BUSINESS OF BAUTISTA
Aside from your day job, you’ve also managed to expand your personal brand extensively, branching out beyond endorsements into investing, franchising and even sitting on a board for your baseball bat manufacturer. How do you choose which businesses to get involved with?
I have an outstanding team in place that helps me study and analyze the thousands of opportunities that come my way on a daily basis. I have a baseball agent, a business manager, three investment advisors, my family and friends. I ask a lot of questions and I listen to everyone’s opinion – it helps me make good decisions. I like to surround myself with people who challenge my knowledge and intelligence. It keeps me hungry and motivated.
How do business styles compare in various countries? Are Canadians really just nicer than everyone else?
I think the business style is more aggressive and cutthroat in the US. That’s not to say things are easy or happy-go-lucky in Canada. I feel conversations and information exchanges are more relaxed and honest in Canadian business discussions when compared to the States.
Is there a specific venture that you’re particularly proud of, or are they all equally important to your professional strategy as a businessman?
I think for me, the best has yet to come in this department, as I owe it to myself, our fans and the organization that I play for to keep my focus on playing the game. There will be plenty of time for business when I retire. That’s exactly why I have chosen to be involved in things that are maintenance-free or focus around baseball because it’s what I do on a daily basis.
Baseball has a grueling 162-game season with nothing but the All-Star break, which you’re usually a part of, to break it up. How do you find balance off the field?
I rely on my family to keep me sane during the season. There’s nothing better than going home to a great, relaxed and loving environment and be able to leave the stress of work where it belongs – at work.
Do you envision yourself staying in the game, either as an executive or in coaching, after baseball?
I’m having too much fun and loving life as a player that I haven’t given it too much thought.
As an athlete, is the idea of winning wrapped up in championships or personal awards? What’s the big win for Jose Bautista?
For individual players in team sports, winning as a team is so hard to control by any single athlete. We should consider winning as going to work everyday, giving the best effort and being the best we can, individually. If everyone has this mindset, I’m sure the collective effort will be the best and lead to more championships.