Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says his infamous bat flip in Game 5 of this year's American League Divisional Series was "misunderstood so badly," and he is responding to the backlash in the hopes of changing perceptions about how his Dominican countrymen play the game of baseball.
Bautista cemented his place in Toronto sports lore when he tossed his bat after jacking a three-run homerun with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Jays the lead. They went on to win the game and the series before losing to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.
Fans at the Rogers Centre went wild when Bautista's homer sailed over the left-field wall, and his bat flip exploded as an internet meme that has yet to fully run its course.
But some critics called Bautista disrespectful not only to the opposing pitcher, but to the game in general, a reaction that the Jays outfielder is quick to say came from "a small group."
"I didn't really know what to think of it. I still don't know what to think of it," Bautista told CBC's Metro Morning in an interview that aired Thursday.
"I don't understand sometimes why some things are misunderstood so badly. But hopefully I made it a little bit more clear for them and then maybe hopefully changed their mind on the bat flip."
Asked by host Matt Galloway why he flipped his bat, Bautista said: "I don't know. I still don't know. It was a reaction to the moment, to the emotion, to everything else that was going on."
'Baseball isn't a country club game'
Bautista responded to the criticism Monday in an online essay at The Players' Tribune, a site launched by retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter where both current and retired athletes write about their lives on and off the field.
In it, Bautista suggests his critics have an "old-school, my-way-or-the-highway" attitude and believe all players should approach the game in the same way and "usually claim that it is out of respect."
But, he says, those critics are failing to appreciate the diversity of cultures represented in today's MLB, particularly players from the Dominican Republic, who grow up in a different atmosphere.
"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," Bautista writes.
Fans stand throughout the games, and players might celebrate even early inning hits with a bat flip or a fist pump.
"It's all part of the show," Bautista writes. "And you're kidding yourself if you think baseball isn't a show."
But players from the Dominican are not just a product of their fun-loving, passionate culture. They have very practical reasons for putting everything they have into the game, including making it to the big leagues to lift their families out of dire poverty, Bautista says.
"I was privileged growing up in a middle-class family going to private school and all that, but I did play with all those other kids who had the dirt floors, who had to play and be good at it to get their families out of those holes," Bautista told Metro Morning.
"They definitely had a lot more at stake, and maybe that's another thing that plays into how much emotion there is attached to the game in the Dominican Republic."
The criticism levelled at him and other Dominican players also comes from a gap between how Dominican and North American players grow up in the game, he told Metro Morning.
The gap "is pretty significant I think, but it's not a bad thing," Bautista said.
"I'm not saying that one is better than the other, by any means. It's just different. Our games are more charged with that raw emotion."
In North America, by contrast, there's an "unwritten etiquette [that] you're not supposed to get too high or too low," an attitude he attributes to players needing to get through 162-game seasons, which are much longer than in the Dominican Republic.
"Here, because the seasons are so long, the instruction has always been, 'Keep your poise, don't try to get into the peaks and valleys, keep your emotions in check' " so as not to overly tax the mind and body, Bautista said.
Bautista is currently at home in Florida, already getting ready for next season.
While he isn't doing any heavy weightlifting, he's "trying to get my body right" following a season that left the Jays hungry after falling short in their first playoff appearance in 22 years.
"You know there's always next year and you didn't achieve what you wanted to do and you got so close that you could taste it," Bautista told Metro Morning.
"So you keep motivated that way. And you know that you're not finished, you have unfinished business and you come up at next spring training even more hungry, and that's what I'm going to do. "