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Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista went 0-2 and was hit in the foot by a pitch in his return to the lineup. (Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press)
Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista went 0-2 and was hit in the foot by a pitch in his return to the lineup. (Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press)

Blue Jays’ Bautista takes Hall of Fame heat, makes Grapefruit League debut Add to ...

Jose Bautista strutted through the clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Wednesday, full of vim and vigour, loudly asserting to no one in particular how he detested the tops the players had decided to wear for their workout.

This wasn’t going to go unchallenged by Josh Donaldson, a neighbour of Bautista’s in the back corner of the Toronto Blue Jays’ room.

Donaldson started giving his teammate what-for, arguing that Bautista had no business complaining given that he had not even appeared in a spring training game yet.

Bautista, of course, was not going to stand for such smart-alecky banter, even if it all was in good fun, and for the next minute or so the air turned blue as the pair verbally went toe to toe.

After close to two weeks of Grapefruit League play, it was time for Bautista to get into a game. But even then, he could not find peace.

Now he’s got Rich (Goose) Gossage yapping at his heels.

After skipping the first nine games this spring to ease his workload in anticipation of the long grind ahead, Bautista got into his first game on Thursday against the New York Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field.

It was only as the designated hitter, and Bautista went 0-2 and was hit in the foot by a pitch hurled by new Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, who was also making his first spring appearance.

The Blue Jays won 11-4 to improve their Grapefruit League record to 8-1-1.

Bautista said he was fine with his outing, par for the course for a first time out.

What he wasn’t so fine with were comments levelled at him before the game by Gossage, the Hall of Fame player who built his reputation as a feared reliever with the Yankees in the late 1970s and into the ’80s.

ESPN dusted off the now-64-year-old before Thursday’s game and in a 10-minute, profanity-laced tirade he ripped into Bautista, the game itself, Ryan Braun, Yoenis Cespedes – you name it.

Apparently, Gossage is still seething over Bautista’s now-infamous bat flip after his three-run home run in the American League Division Series that sank the Texas Rangers in October.

“Bautista is a … disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes, same thing.”

Bautista played it cool after learning of the broadside.

“He’s entitled to his opinion,” Bautista said evenly. “I don’t agree with him whatsoever, but I’m not going to try to pick fights with people because they say what’s on their mind. If he had a reason to believe that, I’d love to hear that, but I’ve never talked to him. I don’t know him.

“So whatever reason or agenda that he’s on, fine with me. I’m not going to start picking a fight, let alone with a Hall of Famer.”

Bautista did not want to say much more about what Gossage blathered on about, but the situation dovetails nicely into comments made by Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper to ESPN The Magazine.

“Baseball’s tired,” Harper is quoted as saying. “It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do.

“I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig – there’s so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.”

Bautista said he agrees with those sentiments, that baseball players should be encouraged to wear their emotions more on their sleeves.

“I think it should play a role in every sport, especially with everything you do in life,” Bautista said. “It’s kind of hard to just go about everything, especially exciting things, and just sit there with a poker face like nothing’s happening. I don’t even think that’s in human nature.

“You’re supposed to react, you’re supposed to be emotional. That’s how you stay in tune with being a human. If not, you turn into something else. You do it enough you become numb to all the different sensations you’re supposed to be feeling and all your reactions when stuff happens. Those are stimuli [and] you’re supposed to respond. That’s human nature.”

Bautista said it is not in his nature to keep a lid on his feelings during a game.

“Some people are very good at keeping it down while others are more in tune with it and use that energy to propel them, to get into a higher level of focusing on competition,” he said. “And I’m like that, and I’m sure Bryce is like that, and I think he’s 100-per-cent right in his comments.”

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