When Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista tattooed a three-run home run that put his team up for good in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, it was the biggest hit in a professional baseball game played in Canada since Joe Carter’s walk-off tater in the 1993 World Series.
Remember when you were a young kid playing your favorite sport in the backyard? You remember. You set the stage for yourself to be in position to win your team’s biggest game and to be in the center of the action. You called yourself by last name only as if you were serving as your own play-by-play announcer, and you always celebrated coming through in the clutch and being the reason your squad won the game.
Bautista lived out every backyard baseball fantasy with one powerful swing of the stick. How dare the slugger react like any of us would, enjoying his accomplishment and expressing his emotion in the process? With adrenaline rushing, the entire stadium deafening and his teammates going berserk, how could Bautista possibly be so selfish as to enjoy the moment? In what’s now only known as the bat flip heard around the world, Bautista tossing his bat has got some people so fired up that we actually have to hear about how continued actions like these are going to ruin the game of baseball.
If you have a problem with a professional athlete displaying celebratory emotion when the moment demands it, the problem is with you. We constantly beg to see more raw emotion, and then we criticize it as soon as it’s shown. We ask for our favorite players not to be robots, but we expect them to be emotionless when the game moves in an unexpected direction.
Should we teach our kids that they shouldn’t be upset after losing? Should we tell those same children that it’s not OK to celebrate when unlocking an achievement? Major League Baseball is undoubtedly big business, but this is a child’s game that is supposed to be filled with fun.
This isn’t even about Bautista, a highly emotional player, who has been on the wrong side of the line plenty of times prior. This is about folks criticizing Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig for the wrong reasons. This is about people wondering about Yoenis Cespedes’ commitment to the game because he likes to play with a different style than the one they may be used to seeing.
Celebrating a personal or group accomplishment is not a sign of disrespect for an opponent. Those moments are fueled by emotion and filled with jubilation. If we can’t allow our athletes to be happy when those rooting for the player are cheering uncontrollably, what does that say about the logic of those who stand in that isolated corner?
After the Blue Jays won and clinched a spot in the ALCS, I had to listen to a sports talk radio caller, a Toronto fan, complain about the example Bautista is setting. Citing his son as an example—who of course plays in a competitive baseball league as he’s obviously the next big thing—the man was actually upset at Bautista because he flipped his bat. This caller, a Blue Jays fan who hasn’t seen his team enjoy any form of real success in over 20 years, was actually mad that the player who won his team the game celebrated his legendary home run that clinched the victory in iconic fashion.
If that sounds like a twisted way of thinking, that’s because it is.
Considering the context of this moment, this specific thread in baseball history, Bautista could have cartwheeled around the bases, blasted an air horn as he crossed the plate, salsa danced back to the dugout and it still would have been appropriate.
Ever since Bat Flip Bautista—which should be his nickname moving forward—created a point on MLB’s timeline that will never die, baseball has been at the forefront of the conversation. With opinions on both sides and wall-to-wall news coverage from outlets that don’t typically provide it, MLB finds itself with the spotlight directly on the sport on the game’s biggest stage.
Things like this create an interest in the game for those who don’t follow it closely and spark the conversation amongst those who don’t usually enjoy it. Moments like this will be remembered for years to come, and the story of the 2015 playoffs will not be able to be told without Bautista’s beautiful bat flip.
If you want to look back at one of the best playoff baseball games in recent history with disdain, disgust and with scorn for an action that stems from happiness, that says more about you than the action ever will.