Jose Bautista’s bat flip was a beautiful indictment of ‘the right way’

WASHINGTON — Jose Bautista’s bat flip Wednesday night is already almost as legendary as the home run that preceded it. And the fact that it has become perhaps an even bigger talking point is actually good for baseball, as it is signifying the change in approach to and appreciation for a game that is as slow to embrace change as any.

If you weren’t watching, let’s acknowledge why we’re here in the first place, why we’re having a discussion at all.

That is an epic home run. It was the apex of one of the craziest innings any baseball fan had ever witnessed, the culmination of a questionable enforcement of a clumsy rule, three consecutive errors, and a city on the brink of throwing itself into civil unrest. It was a cathartic blast of emotion, the second-longest home run of the postseason only to teammate Edwin Encarnacion’s mammoth shot an inning prior.

It was the crucial moment in the only home win in the series for the Blue Jays, Canada’s lone remaining big league team. It marked their first home playoff win since 1993. It meant they would continue on to the ALCS after breaking baseball’s longest playoff drought by winning the AL East this year.

It was as big as home runs get.

“I told him Jose needs to calm that down,” said Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, who allowed the home run, of what he told Edwin Encarnacion in the on-deck circle following the blast, which sparked the benches to clear. “Just kind of respect the game a little more.”

The idea of not celebrating as a way of respecting the game is as tired a trope as exists in baseball. It is a boy’s game played by grown men. They carry the immense weight of cities, regions, and entire nations on their backs, resting on their ability to hit a round ball squarely with a round bat.

Imagine achieving the greatest accomplishment in your life with tens of thousands of people looking on, wishing, praying for you to do just that. Imagine the spontaneous euphoria of that moment. How high and far would you flip your bat?

There have been epic bat flips before, and there will be again. Just this week, there have been several, like the one from Yoenis Cespedes, following his three-run, upper deck job Monday night, or Kyle Schwarber after going Schwar-board on Tuesday.

But nothing stands up to the magnitude of the home run, or the ensuing flip, from Bautista. Really, it needs a new term, seeing that it has transcended its status as a “flip” and become something else entirely. Let’s see it again, because why wouldn’t we want to?

Dyson doesn’t want us to. He wants to protect the children.

“He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up and playing this game,” said Dyson, as reason for why Bautista shouldn’t have celebrated his historic feat. “It shouldn’t be done.”

Yes, Bautista is a role model. Just ask this little guy.

That is pure bliss, the likes of which you or I may never feel for the rest of our lives. That is that boy’s hero doing the most heroic thing he could possibly imagine at the exact time he and every Canadian baseball fan needed him to. Do you think his enjoyment of the game will be diminished by Bautista’s own celebration of that shared moment? Or was this the moment that seared into his memory forever, when he became a lifelong fan of a sport desperately trying to connect to the younger generation?

The best recent piece written on “the right way” to play the game came from former Major League catcher John Baker just a couple weeks ago at Fox Sports. You should really read the whole thing, because it’s a terrific illustration of how the game is perceived differently around the world. But the biggest take-away was that the game is celebrated more openly in Latin America, something that opened a white, American player’s eyes to the different perceptions of the sport.

To be clear, Bautista didn’t only celebrate that way because he’s Dominican, and Dyson didn’t react the way he did simply because he’s a white American. But the underlying roots in how each has perceived the game as he’s learned it may add additional distance to the divide between them.

It’s also important to recognize the mindset of Dyson (and Cole Hamels, who echoed his statements) in the aftermath. Handed a golden opportunity to beat what appears to be the best team in the game — leading the series two games to none, then Game 5 by the same mark — Texas could not. While the defense was instrumental in that letdown, it was Hamels who surrendered Encarnacion’s blast, and Dyson Bautista’s. Those are the replays that will haunt them from TV and Internet highlight reels for the rest of their lives.

Being in a losing clubhouse after a season-ending loss is the definitional opposite of fun. Wearing the laundry of that side, surrounded by teammates you feel you have helped lead to that failure, is almost unimaginable. So as human beings, we should give Dyson and Hamels something of a pass for their comments. As much we should be happy for Bautista and the Blue Jays and allow them to revel in their moment, we should be understanding of the Rangers’ sorrow in theirs.

That being said, they’re still wrong. Baseball, like any sport, is at its best when the pure emotion of huge moments transcends the game. Bautista’s blast was one of those moments. As far as I’m concerned, any batter should have license to do anything within the boundaries of the legal system from the time the ball leaves the bat until it lands (in Kyle Schwarber’s case, he can dance into eternity).

The game is at its best when its biggest moments are allowed to shine brightest. Those are the moments that forge new fans, that make more people appreciate the beauty and excitement of the game, that get them to buy tickets and hats and watch the game with their families at home.

Anyone who plays baseball for a living should be smart enough to respect that.

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