Slugger Jose Bautista recently spent a morning distributing free shoes to needy kids at a Boys and Girls Club in Minneapolis during All-Star week. The league's leading vote-getter wanted to do something nice while he was in town. Not just to do it, but also to make an impression and tell the kids his story of growing up in impoverished country, and the personal impact of helping others.
In this Answer Man session set in the Twin Cities, Bautista talks about that, along with other experiences that have shaped his most unusual — and often amazing — major league career that has produced 170 home runs in his past 617 games.
David Brown: So how does it make you feel to do something for these kids by donating 150 pairs of shoes? It seemed like you got something emotional out of it. Does it ever make you feel … guilty, like you could do more?
Jose Bautista: I don’t feel guilty, necessarily, because you can’t really help or control where you’re born into this world. But you do want to give back more once you start, because you see how much it’s needed and appreciated. It’s a great feeling to have. It’s a great feeling to see the look on the kids' faces when they get even a small present like a pair of shoes.
DB: Is there an organization like the Boys and Girls Club in the D.R.?
Jose: There’s not, actually. And, when I think about it, I wish there were. There’s little, small organizations but there’s no big, national chain organizations. It’s certainly needed, though. And the clubs are international, but they don’t have a presence, or if they do it’s really small, in the Dominican. I mean, you raise a great question. Maybe it’s something I need to ask and see if I can get involved somehow.
DB: What do kids do who need help?
Jose: It’s tough and, obviously, the poverty levels down there are way higher than they are here. Unfortunately, it’s part of life, and something that many here in the United States don’t have to deal with. They should feel blessed and and fortunate that they don’t. Growing up in the Dominican, I have seen it, witnessed it. It’s much tougher over there than it is over there.
As a young person growing up, I’m sure it’s good to see and know that there’s other people that care. And they don’t necessarily have to be just your parents or your family. It gives you, I guess, perspective. It’s also going to make them want to help out the next person. Sometimes, the easiest and best way to inspire people to do great things in life is to help them out.
DB: You seemed like a natural helping the kids try on shoes at the club. When walking into a clubhouse from off the street, you’re always wearing some of the best shoes of any major leaguer. What’s it like for Jose Bautista to go shopping for shoes?
Jose: My shopping for shoes is done online — and then I place a phone call. So I don’t have to go to stores anymore. But I look. I look to see what’s trendy. I know what I like, and what I think people like. I think I have good taste, and I just try to put it all together.
DB: Hey, you’re a small-business owner. What’s it like to own a Booster Juice franchise?
Jose: Being a part of the Toronto community is something that I take very seriously, and I’m proud of it. I’ve had a lot of success in Toronto and in Canada, and they’ve treated me with the red carpet, and I’ve gotten the royal treatment since I got there. Being able to give back by employing a couple of people, being part of the local community in the city, it’s awesome. And the store’s doing great.
DB: You ever get a call at 7 a.m. saying that something’s gone haywire, “We need you down here to fix the smoothie machine?"
Jose: Haha, I haven’t yet, and hopefully I don’t ever get that one, because I do have a general manager that takes good care of that. If I get a phone call it might be something extreme. I hope I never get that call.
DB: When Rogers Centre opened and the hotel got a lot of attention, people were known for putting on displays of intimacy so the whole world might see. Does that ever happen anymore? You guys ever catch any shenanigans going on?
Jose: They haven’t been caught in a long time, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. I think the first year when I got to Toronto was the last recorded incident. But it actually didn’t even happen in a hotel room, it was happening up in the cheap seats. Way up high. I mean, we were doing bad. We didn’t have a good record. The games in September got pretty empty. There was a couple up high there, and they put them on the TV screen inside the stadium for a minute — nobody knows why. It didn’t get on TV, but it was on in the stadium. They got their 20 seconds of fame there. People still talk about it a lot.
DB: If the Jays make the playoffs, is the team going to add Drake to the coaching staff?
Jose: Ha ha! I think we’ll let him stay with the Raptors for now. He’s just a fan of good sports teams that are having success.
DB: You got drafted out of the D.R. because you went to college here, but most are plucked off the streets as teens. How would you describe the process by which kids out of the D.R. get signed?
Jose: Well, it’s a process that has been going for a long time and it keeps improving. There are flaws that need to be fixed and people are aware of them and they’re fixing them. Ultimately it brings a lot of jobs to a lot of people in our country that sometimes wouldn’t have access to salaries like that. The system provides a lot of opportunities to a lot of kids and some of them make it to the big leagues and get to be stars. It’s something that needs help, it needs work, but it also is of a lot of help to our country.
DB: When teams first started coming after you, the Reds reportedly offered you $300,000 to sign, you agreed and then they reneged after Marge Schott sold the team. Isn’t that breach of contract? Could you have sued, if you wanted?
Jose: No, no, no. It was more like a verbal commitment. It needed approval [from ownership] and I never signed a letter of intent. Nothing was on paper. In the Dominican, verbal commitments are not binding.
DB: But did it leave a bad taste in your mouth?
Jose: I mean, it did. I wanted badly to be a professional player. Each person’s path leads somewhere, and mine — because I couldn’t sign that contract — led to going to college and a different opportunity. Ultimately, I got to where I wanted to be.
DB: I’m imagining, like, a weekly Skype conference call with all of the Dominican players in North America, where grievances can be aired, new business addressed. Is something like that feasible?
Jose: I talk to all of the guys when I go to different cities and catch up, but we’re trying to come up with different ways to give back to the Dominican. Our social institutions and our government is not always organized in the best ways to do that.
DB: Looking back, should the Hall of Fame have an exhibit from the 2004 season when you set a record for playing with five different organizations in the same year?
Jose: Ha ha. I don’t know; that’s a tough question for me. It’s kind of like an interesting “Did you know?” fact, but I don’t think people are going to fly to Cooperstown just to look at that exhibit.
DB: You don’t have the biggest beard in the majors, but probably have the best-kept face.
Jose: Ha ha.
DB: Do you ever find yourself, like, when you’re trimming, counting the hairs on each side to make sure it’s not uneven?
Jose: No, I don’t, but I also don’t do this (caresses face) myself normally. When I have to, I do, but most of the time I have a barber do it for me. Ideally, once a week. But sometimes, we go on road trips and you can’t find one, so that’s when I have to do it.
DB: Which cities are the best and the worst to find a barber?
Jose: For us, New York is the best. The worse? Mmm. It’s got to be something in the Midwest. Probably Kansas City.
DB: Whose beard in this room impresses you? Should you say Derek Norris?
Jose: No! Or [Sean] Doolittle, either. It doesn’t impress me because they don’t do anything to it. They just let it go. No maintenance, there’s no effort into it.
DB: You don’t appreciate the joie de vivre, the free spirit, the letting go?
Jose: I do, but it doesn’t impress me enough to admire the beard.
DB: You have a reputation for speaking up when you disagree with an umpire’s strike zone. Has complaining done you any good?
Jose: I wouldn’t say that I “speak” about it — I’d say that I react. But it hasn’t helped me, I don’t think. But that’s the way the sport is. I can’t change it and I can’t change the way I was wired when I came out of the womb. So if I react to a bad call, it’s like reacting if you see a dog about to get hit by a car. Some people just stand there and look at it, don’t even flinch, and I’m not one of those people. Same thing with a bad strike. That’s just the way I was born. I don’t do it to show anybody up or to make them look bad, or to embarrass them. I just react. Sometimes they take it the wrong way and I get hosed on a couple after. I’ve dealt with it and I’m trying to get better at it.
DB: Are the Steelers fixed? Are they going to rebound?
Jose: I would hope so. They’re better, for sure. I have my theories and I don’t want to be too critical of them in public.
DB: Why not?
Jose: Because I’m a big fan and I always want to keep my comments positive.
DB: And be able to get on the sideline, if you wanted.
Jose: I’ve never done that, but it doesn’t matter.
DB: What would happen to the popularity of the Argonauts if the Bills moved from Buffalo to Toronto?
Jose: Well, they’re in different leagues, so I think they’ll be OK coexisting.
DB: The Royals seem to miss Kevin Seitzer as a hitting coach. What has he meant to you in Toronto?
Jose: It’s been great. He’s complemented my game and approach at the plate in a nice way. It’s been positive for me to sometimes use some of his hitting philosophies, and I’ve taken advantage of going the other way a bunch, more than in past years. It’s worked in my favor.
DB: Does it drag on your power at all?
Jose: In certain situations, but you put things into balance. If you have 50 at-bats with two strikes, and you try to hit a home run those 50 times, you might connect twice with a .150 average. Or, you could try to go the other way those 50 times and maybe get 15 hits so you’re hitting .300 and have no home runs. I’d rather take the second ones. I’ll probably drive in more runs with the 15 hits. Unless there’s two grand slams, and then all of those hits are with nobody on base, and what are the chances of that? That would be odd, probably.
DB: Is your alter-ego Joey Bats based on anyone in real life?
Jose: No! It’s not an alter-ego, it’s just a nickname.
DB: But you had the commercial where it came to life!
Jose: But they asked me to portray a mafia guy in underworld New York. I mean, I thought it was cool and the fans would like it, so… I went with it.
DB: In real life, what kind of gangster would you be?
Jose: Eh, probably a Peter Pan or Robin Hood type of gangster. Give back to the people, because I’m not really a criminal in any way, so…
DB: Ever heard of Feminist Jose Bautista?
Jose: I have. I have no relationship with the account but it seems like everything they do is positive, so I’m not going to come after them about misuse of my name. If, one day, it does turn negative, or detrimental or bad in public, I might have to say something.
DB: Sounds like a veiled threat.
Jose: It’s not a threat, but they are portraying to be related to myself and they’re not. So I also have to be careful and look after my image.
DB: Are you a feminist?
Jose: I like to think so. My mom is. Not an extreme but she’s a feminist. I grew up in a household where she was pro-opportunities for women, and more equality.
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