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Bautista’s rehab assignment has Herd players feeling nostalgic

Chris Leroux was already playing winter ball in Venezuela when the Toronto Blue Jays were battling the Texas Rangers in the deciding game of the 2015 American League Division Series.

He was watching the game on television with a stack of Venezuelan bolívar in his hand, ready to head downstairs of his hotel to make a quick purchase. That’s when Jose Bautista came to the plate and crushed a three-run home run for the Jays.

“He hit the home run and I threw the money in the air and these bolívar went everywhere and I was like ‘Holy Cow! that’s unbelievable!’ ” said Leroux, himself a Canadian. “Because I grew up a Toronto fan. We haven’t been really that great since 92-93 and I was young then. Now I’m old enough to appreciate it. It was cool. Definitely something I’m going to remember forever.”

It was an instant classic baseball moment as Toronto advanced to the American League Championship Series with a 6-3 win. And the moment came with the bat flip.

It’s become such an iconic image of the slugger that the Buffalo Bisons have used it in promotional material as Bautista makes his way to Coca-Cola Field for a Major League Rehabilitation assignment beginning Friday and likely lasting through Sunday.

Bautista was hitting .230 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs when he suffered a toe injury June 16 in a game in Philadelphia. His first game off the disabled was Wednesday in Single-A Dunedin, where he homered in his first at-bat and finished 1 for 3 with a strikeout.

There are few in baseball who haven’t seen the home run and bat flip that capped a 53-minute seventh inning that saw Texas take a 3-2 lead on a bizarre play that saw Rougned Odor score from third when catcher Russell Martin’s throw back to the mound went off the hand of batter Shin-Soo Choo. In the bottom half of the inning, the Rangers committed three straight errors. A bloop single from Josh Donaldson tied the game setting up Bautista’s home run.

“I was watching that at home,” said Bisons’ reliever Ben Rowan. “I was really into it because I knew guys from the Blue Jays and the Rangers so it was really fun watching that game. It was really intense. I remember how long that inning was. It took about an hour. For Bautista, that bat flip was huge obviously. It had defined everything he had done that year. It was so much emotion. Just a ton of emotion and let it all out.”

Emotional is how Chris Colabello describes Bautista. Colabello was on-deck and in the hallway preparing for his at-bat.

“Just to have it happen for the right guy and what he means to the organization and everything was huge,” Colabello said. “I think it’s something, short of Joe Carter’s home run to win the World Series, I’ve never heard of a bigger homer in franchise history. I was just honored to be part of the game and get to see it. I remember when he hit, I saw the ball off the bat and knew it was a homer so I kept my eyes on him and before you know it, you felt the ground shaking underneath you. I probably watched it 200 times honestly.

“It’s amazing to hear the reaction afterward from people,” about the bat flip, Colabello said. “People want to judge the moment from the outside but like until you put yourself in somebody’s shoes and feel the emotion attached to something and really understand the moment. He wasn’t trying to disrespect anybody. It was just as sheer emotional moment. You couldn’t have written it out any better. ... He’s a very emotional guy. He’s a competitor. He’s a gamer. He loves to compete. He loves to win.”


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