After a rousing cheer from the crowd when he stepped onto the court briefly during Friday night’s Toronto Raptors game, baseball star Jose Bautista slowly made his way down one side of the Air Canada Centre, where the adulation continued.
Fans on both sides of the aisle leaned over to slap Bautista on the back, shake hands, and offer words of encouragement to the Toronto Blue Jays’ right fielder. The message was essentially the same.
“World Series, playoffs, can’t wait to get started, can’t wait until the season starts,” Bautista replied on Saturday when asked what the fans were telling him. “Basically just the same thoughts that go through my head. I can’t wait to get started either.
“This is probably the season that I’ve been most excited about since my rookie year and going to a big-league camp for the first time. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s hard to put into words how we feel as players going into a season knowing how good our chances are to win.”
After general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s stunning off-season makeover of the roster with a series of blockbuster moves, the Blue Jays have vaulted from afterthought to World Series favourite heading into the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
Bautista said it is gratifying that so many are suddenly pinning their hopes on a team that won just 73 games during an injury-ravaged 2012 campaign, but there is still a lot of work to do.
“They’re great expectations,” Bautista said. “I wouldn’t say it’s pressure. I would look at it like background noise and it’s noise that’s helping you out. Everyone expects us to win and that’s great, but it’s not something we’re going to focus on, because it’s not going to help us be better.
“Individually we’ll do whatever it takes to play good and hopefully bringing all that together will be a good team effort and that will translate into wins.”
Bautista was in Toronto over the weekend to participate in the opening leg of the Blue Jays’ Winter Tour and help conduct an amateur baseball clinic for a couple of hundred young players at Rogers Centre on Saturday.
Also on hand for the event was first baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind and pitchers Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup along with Blue Jay coaches DeMarlo Hale, Chad Mottola and Pat Hentgen.
Bautista’s return to form after a left wrist injury sidelined him for most of the second half of the 2012 season will be key to the Blue Jays’ high hopes. Their offence revolves around his big bat, which produced more home runs (124) than any other player in the last two seasons.
Bautista said his wrist is “100 per cent,” although he hasn’t faced any live pitching yet, just hitting soft toss and off a tee.
“There’s no doubt if we had a game tonight, I’d be playing,” said Bautista, who will be the subject of a segment on 60 Minutes in the spring.