Fans, Blue Jays tip caps to Joey Bats

In veteran's possible final home game at Rogers Centre, Toronto salutes franchise icon

Fans, Blue Jays tip caps to Joey Bats

TORONTO -- Jose Bautista brought swagger and confidence to the Blue Jays. He's responsible for one of the most iconic moments in franchise history, and he'll go down as one of the best athletes the city has ever seen. On Sunday afternoon, it was time for Blue Jays fans to say thank you for all of that and so much more.

Toronto dubbed this series against New York "Fan Appreciation Weekend," but it might as well have been renamed in Bautista's honor, because that was the focus during Sunday's 9-5 victory. The standing ovations were loud, they were long and they were frequent as teammates and fans alike celebrated one of Toronto's all-time greats.
 

Blue Jays celebrate Bautista

Nobody really knows what's in store after this season, but the expectation is that Bautista's time in Toronto has come to an end after 10 seasons. If Sunday afternoon really was the final time he stepped foot on the Rogers Centre turf as a Blue Jay, Bautista treated the crowd to one last memorable afternoon with a pair of hits, an RBI and a send-off that left very few dry eyes in the house.

Blue Jays fans give Bautista hero's send-off

Bautista's RBI single

"A lot of good emotions," Bautista said after the game. "It's good to be recognized, and it's good to feel the love. I appreciate everything that happened today."

Bautista on fans' recognition

Sunday's game didn't mean anything for the Blue Jays in the standings, but there was an undeniable buzz throughout Rogers Centre at the home finale. Marcus Stroman ran onto the field for his pregame bullpen wearing an authenticated black "Jays" jersey that Bautista used in 2010. Fans started chanting "Jose, Jose, Jose" during warmups and rose to their feet when he was introduced in the lineup.

In the ultimate sign of respect, when Bautista ran onto the field before the start of the first inning, none of his teammates followed. They instead remained in the dugout so Bautista could soak up the moment. Bautista didn't know it was coming, and by the time he realized, it was too late. He went to right field, raised his hand into the air and saluted the hometown crowd before the rest of the Blue Jays joined him.

Bautista recognized by fans

Bautista's 2017 season did not go as expected, but none of that mattered Sunday afternoon. This was about paying respect to a man who ranks near the top of every major offensive category in Toronto history. He's second in home runs (287), second in walks (802), third in runs (788) and third in RBIs (763).

"That was a joint idea -- it was actually a little conversation I had with [Kevin] Pillar and [Ryan] Goins, trying to figure out what to do to celebrate him," Stroman said of having Bautista go out on his own. "I came out to his main music he had, "Trophies," and then we let him run out to it by himself.

"It's special just to see how much the fans and how much the entire country of Canada appreciate him, and they should, because he's had a remarkable career and he's done some things here that are extremely special. I hope he's back. I hope this is not the last home game I have with Bau."

Gibbons on Bautista's career

The Blue Jays weren't much of anything when Bautista arrived as an afterthought in 2008. Attendance was sagging, and with good reason -- the club hadn't played meaningful baseball in September since 1993. It was a foregone conclusion that year after year Toronto would finish behind big-budget teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees.

There was an inferiority complex associated with the team and its fanbase. It didn't happen overnight, but over time, Bautista helped change all of that. The franchise-record 54 homers in 2010, the six appearances at the All-Star Game. The two-homer game in the 2015 American League Championship Series and, of course, the Bat Flip Heard Round the World.

Few players have meant more to this city and this country than No. 19. A reporter informed Bautista after the game that former president Paul Beeston gave him credit for making baseball relevant again in these parts. It wasn't that popular when he arrived, but it's thriving now. Bautista rarely shows his softer side to the public, but for one rare moment, that changed.

"I wouldn't go that far," Bautista said, a split second before his eyes started to well up and his voice began to trail off. "I'll take the comment. Maybe I'd like to think I helped a little bit."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.