Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista was dealt plenty of curveballs on his way to becoming a five-time MLB All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger.
The 34-year-old Bautista took each challenge in stride, specifically when four of the teams he played for in his first season tried to overhaul his swing or lowball him on potential offers during his journey to the majors.
“Even though I loved the game, I understood the business part,” Bautista says.
Sure, the road was long and sometimes arduous. It took Bautista six years to showcase to the baseball world exactly what he was capable of behind the plate – but he wasn’t complaining. And after all, baseball – his key to growth and prosperity as a youngster – came second in the grand scheme of things to his role as a student and son back in his birthplace of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic.
“I mean, it's my dream. I just had to figure out a way to get enough information and learn enough that way,” says Bautista. “I didn't even have 1,000 at-bats. Most guys, in order to go to the big leagues, get at least 1,500 to 2,000 at-bats. I always wanted to play and be a professional, but I always kept things in check with my education.”
As a boy, the player who we would later learn to call “Joey Bats” first came into contact with the sport at the age of 5, playing with neighborhood children and his father in the backyard. At that point in time, Bautista began to play on little league teams that weren’t very organized. He continued to grow, and before he knew it, he was playing in a much bigger league as a teenager with friends in a stadium near his house.
However, before stepping foot in a batter’s box, Bautista knew that his schooling was a precursor to his future as a baseball player.
“As I kept my schoolwork in check, my parents allowed me to do pretty much anything without getting in trouble,” Bautista says.
In the classroom, he was earning grades the equivalent of home runs. He also developed an affinity for mathematics.
“I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging but I was a pretty decent student. I got good grades. I was the top of my class; in the Top 5 percent,” says Bautista. “I enjoyed subjects like physics, math, and chemistry. There’s no denying it [math], no interpretation. For some reason, numbers were easy to me.”
Side by side, his goals of becoming a successful student and baseball player were taking flight. Bautista’s next stop in his maturation process took place still in his teens, where he would attend a private Catholic high school, all the while playing in three different baseball leagues. He graduated as the youngest in his class and only had Saturday’s off.
“During my years as a teen, I mostly just exercised at the stadium. Down there, we played twice a day on each team so I basically played six out of the seven days in a week,” Bautista says.
Lifting weights was not part of the Dominican culture, says Bautista. What he and countless other little leaguers would focus on is stretching and conditioning. Around this period of his life, he was standing close to 5’10” and tipping the scales at roughly 150 pounds.
Throughout his youth baseball career, Bautista had premier instruction from Dominican baseball legends. He was able to learn how to play the game the right way and see firsthand just how important the sport was and is to his countryman.
“I played on that team [Quique Cruz league] since I was 12 until I was like 17 years old,” says Bautista. “Mostly, I played for fun because I liked it. Up until I was 16 or 17, was when I started getting good.”
He added, “Baseball is our pride and joy – our most popular sport. It’s something that you don’t take lightly.”
Towards the end of his high school playing days, Bautista began receiving offers from major league scouts to come practice at their complexes. He’d work out with teams such as the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Cincinnati Reds. Meanwhile, Bautista studied business at Pontificio Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestrain, what was one of his countries’ top schools in that category.
“Back then, they allowed people that were getting looked at - people that were not signed to a contract with that particular team - up to three months to get evaluated. I took full advantage of that,” Bautista says. “It was a great experience for me. I was part of the group as if I signed a contract. I did exactly the same as all those guys did. It was pretty similar to the way it is now.”
When those three months were up, and the teams had to make a decision on a contract offer for the teenage Bautista, he found out just how the game was really played – at least off of the baseball diamond.
“The contract offers I got, I didn’t feel like were better offers than going to college. They weren’t of better value than what I valued my education at,” says Bautista.
It was a reality check for him. He didn’t take it personal and unbeknownst to him, Bautista would experience a lot more trials and tribulations in the near future. For now, though, Bautista had to take the good with the bad, until he found a break.