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Bautista's biggest legacy was making the Blue Jays relevant: Smith

Slugging outfielder helped move the franchise back to the forefront of the minds of fans.

So many big moments, none bigger than this.

Tom Szczerbowski

So many big moments, none bigger than this.

There are many far more eloquent good-byes to Jose Bautista out there on the interwebs this little piece will be and I’m sure many of you have seen many of them and it was a very, nice, sweet, emotional day watching, listening to and reading the regular fans pay homage the Blue Jays outfielder yesterday afternoon.

But for all he did, there is one over-arching aspect of his tenure in Toronto that I think might be getting a bit lost in all of this:

He brought baseball back to the city, the province, the country.

And I don’t know that he’ll ever get his due for spawning an entire generation of fans who have turned out to be some of the most rabid and faithful groups in all of professional sports.

Take a look: 3.2 million at home in this lost season when the Jays were never once out of last place; see games in Seattle and Detroit and Cleveland and, yeah even venerable Wrigley Field and they feel like home games; count the number of people you know who own some kind of Blue Jays gear and wear it proudly all year around.

And ask yourself why?

And I’ll answer:

It’s because Jose Bautista became one of the very best players in the game while he was here and resurrected a franchise that was, to a large extent, boring and uninteresting and of little consequence in the bigger picture of major league baseball. An afterthought here, too, to a large degree.

Forget this season, careers of 36-year-old sluggers seldom end well and that’s quite fine and understandable. Bautista was the Blue Jays, he made them respectable, he made them relevant, he put them in the conversation.

No, he didn’t do it entirely alone but his skills in his prime were transcendent and they basically forced ownership and management to do something drastic.

Maybe they would have anyway, probably not; they could have cashed cheques and drawn 26,000 people a night and plugged along hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, maybe.

I know that nothing in sports in truly linear but if Bautista isn’t Bautista, maybe they don’t do the franchise-altering Florida or Mets trades, maybe they don’t get close enough to chase Tulowitzki or Price or even Donaldson.

It had to start somewhere and it started with the recalcitrant superstar who by his strength of will became a major part of the country’s sports will in the past decade.

His personality – and I was around enough to see the prickly side and the hard-headedness and the “I don’t care what you think” attitude – may have also been perfect for the times.

I think Toronto fans relished a guy who didn’t give a rat’s ass, who said screw you to critics, who kind of liked being what he saw as under-appreciated. There is a measure of “please like us” that exists in all Toronto sports fans and Bautista made it okay to not care. It was him against the world and it became the Blue Jays against the world and it was new and refreshing. And it continues today. He was a bit defensive and confrontational; fans today are a lot defensive and more confrontational than ever because if was okay for Jose to be like that, it was okay for them to be like that.

I think they liked that other teams hated Bautista because it made it cool to like him and it ushered in a new era of Blue Jays fans.

The bat flip still remains the pinnacle of the single greatest baseball inning I have ever witnessed live or on TV – and I’ve been a fan for a few years now – but it was the lead-up to that moment that was Bautista’s greatest contribution to the Blue Jays.

He made them what they are.

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Of course I got misty watching the opening ceremonies of the Invictus Games, who didn’t?

But I also remembered that I’m a big fan of Sarah McLachlan, which was a nice byproduct of the evening.

So …

It was nice of DeMar to scribble down a few thoughts for us on the eve of training camp, just to get a firmer idea on how he thinks.

Plus, it cuts by one the number of interviews I’ll have to do at Media Day today and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The day itself is long, it’s far too scripted now – “Okay, DeMar’s gonna talk now; all right, Kyle’s ready to talk; Masai’s coming in a minute; almost time for Dwane” – where before it was far more informal and you could sidle up to whoever you wanted whenever you wanted.

That, of course, was before the day became a de facto in-house telethon and tweeter-fest. I don’t know that snippets of quotes with little context are really worth it, to tell you the truth; and I would suspect anyone at home watching hours of it on TV as it unfolds need to examine their priorities.

But maybe there will be news, there will definitely be a chance to reconnect with folks who’ve been away for months and that’s really the biggest benefit.

Missing mascot at the games?

Speaking of the Invictus Games, an astute Irregular points out that neither of us has seen hide nor hair of a mascot!

Maybe there is one and I’ve blocked all multi-sport games stuffed animals out of my mind after Pachi.

Wade leaves $8M behind

How about waking up to hear that Dwayne Wade’s no longer in Chicago?

Not a surprise at all that he got bought out but I thought it would come during the season rather than before it began and I’m kind of surprised that he left $8 million or so on the table since the reason he originally left Miami was money but there you go, he’s gone.

And without having to ask, I know there are people in the Raptors organization – after seeing Carmelo Anthony move to Oklahoma City – who hope Wade picks the Thunder or Spurs as his next destination and not Cleveland.

Heading west

And, finally.

The trip starts early tomorrow and it’s west and then more west and you know me and time differences, we don’t do so well right off the bat.

We’ll try to get stuff up here every day at the usual Eastern Time time but no promises, okay?

The three hours to Victoria might be okay; the three more hours to Honolulu are going to be an issue, I fear.

Few people can say they have covered the Raptors for the 20 years of their existence. Doug Smith is one of them. Join him on Twitter @SmithRaps for the latest from around the NBA, current events and anything else he decides to talk about.

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