DUNEDIN, Fla.—One day Jose Bautista is sparring with the media about reports of his contract demands, which he believes to have been leaked by the Rogers ownership to make a 35 year old man that was claimed to have wanted five years and $150M and colored as greedy. At the end of that day, a veteran local photographer who has covered Blue Jays spring trainings here since the days of Landscaper Rick Bosetti, said “I come all the time just because of Bautista and all he does for the kids in this town.”
Understand that Jose Bautista was a 20th round draft pick in 2000 who after being waived, Rule Fived, bounced in a three-way trade, waived, claimed…then, in his 11th professional season, hit 54 home runs, only to have a blogger who’d never met him suggest it must have been steroids.
He evokes emotional responses; one retired Yankee Hall of Famer last weekend angrily suggested Bautista should be brushed back because of his animated batflips, a subject he’d already addressed in a highly intelligent piece in The Players Tribune.
But, then, Bautista himself is emotional, sometimes appearing to be Ted Cruzesque in his stridency. “I’m not going to change who I am,” he likes to say, which means he’s not going to apologize for flipping his bat like a 10-year old. He’s very smart; he recently went back to the University of South Florida to complete his BA in business, and while he loves his game, he understands the game’s business, how the owners’ revenues have grown at an astoundingly higher rate than players’ salaries in the 20 years since The Strike of 1994-95, and how big market, big local media teams like the Jays, Yankees and Red Sox can hide those revenues from the Central Fund and revenue-sharing with the equivalent of Swiss bank accounts.
He has studied all the aging metrics, and defies them the way he defied his projected career path of being a utility player. When Jose was 30, he led the league in homers (43), walks, slugging, OPS and OPS+.
At 40? “I am preparing to be physically capable of doing the same,” Bautista says. “I am preparing to defy those aging curves by my strict adherence to physical, mental and nutritional routines. When I missed time (at 31) with hip problems, I changed everything,” he says. “I studied, I learned about my body, and how to keep it at peak performance levels, and how to maintain it. I study how Chip Kelly prepares his players. I do what he teaches. I do what Tom Brady does. It is about discipline and diet and strive for physical and mental states that defy aging. I love a good steak; I cannot eat red meat. There are a lot of things I love, but I cannot be who and what I want to be and eat and drink them.
“It has been suggested that when I told the Blue Jays what it would take for me to sign an extension and pass up free agency (next November), it was because I absolutely believe that I will perform at my expected level past the age of 40.”
And, oh, by the way, he wants six years, not five.
His winter routine is a 5 am wakeup call, and body maintenance that includes flexibility, eyesight work, nutrition, yoga and complex weight work. Every month or two, through the season, he has his blood drawn to make sure all maximum levels are maintained, and balanced.
This isn’t for everyone, especially those who love their KFC, Chipotle and t-bones a la carte. Even Chip Kelly’s most ardent admirers knew that after a while, professional football players wouldn’t go for having their blood drawn daily, their oxygen and nutrient levels constantly studied. The MLB Players Association would never allow a team to administer such a program, even as individuals like Bautista and Mark Melancon adhere to similar routines. Or as Brady gets an extension into his fourties.
What is unfortunate is that Mark Shapiro joined the Blue Jays this winter, months before Bautista hits the market. His creative attention to new age conditioning and intellect makes him a perfect match for Bautista, especially since Shapiro appreciates that the motivation that comes from chips on athletes’ shoulders—like Bautista maintains—can be very good for an individual and in turn the team.
Shapiro has hired former IMG Acadamy Director Angus Mumford as Toronto’s Director of Performance, whose 12 years at IMG included focus on athletes and coaches to perform at their best. Mumford worked with the military, with Seals, Military Special Ops, Green Berets, etc. Mumford and Shapiro are adding a complex team of experts in sports science, psychology, and brought in former Kelly/Eagles assistant Potday Steinfort as Mental Performance Coordinator.
Shapiro is hardly alone. Neal Huntington has long had the Pirates ahead of the traditional baseball curve. He’s hired Chip Kelly assistants. The Pirates Director of Performance Chris Johnson, came from the Golden State Warriors, renowned for being ahead of the curve on a myriad of levels, especially rest management. The staff is multi-layered, multi-faceted, specialized, advanced, with research and practice in the impact of rest; the Pirates have the second best record in the National League over the last three years.
“That should be the future of team performance,” says Bautista, who understands and practices most of what the Jays and Pirates see as the future of development and maintenance. Bautista over the last six years leads the majors in homers, is third in runs, second in walks, fourth in OPS and OPS+.
In many ways, he is baseball’s Brady. Aging curves, norms do not apply. No steaks. No clubhouse food. No late night snacks on the red-eyes home to Toronto from the West Coast.
Quinoia and Farro, BA in business. There’s more in life than a six year, $78M contract taking him through the age of 35. Brady could retire to Costa Rica and build another house larger than Rhode Island, but he believes what Jose Bautista believes, that the prices they pay for longterm greatness doesn’t apply to any data bank.
Annual Hero Jam with Jake Peavy and friends to benefit USO:
March 13, Scottsdale AZ: Tickets Here