Bat flips, Toronto Blue Jays

On the Benefits of Embracing the Moment, or: Not All Bat Flips Are Created Equal

Bautista goes yard II

Jose Bautista’s bat flip yesterday was so powerful as to obscure the wildest game many of us have ever seen. It has drawn endless opinions, many of which consisted of little more than the notion, “Wow, wasn’t that something?”—the hallmark of any sporting act powerful enough to draw the attention of the non-sporting public. Pure, visceral response to a pure, visceral moment.

It was something. And it was magnificent.

It was an all-world player at the peak of his powers, unleashing as violent a swing as you will see from a man entirely under control, against a fastball approaching 100 mph, in an inning that had already yielded so much drama as to leave fans emotionally drained, in a game upon which the season hinged, for a team that had not played for anything so meaningful in nearly a quarter-century.

It was all that. It was more.

There are those who feel that such displays—a hitter staring at his handiwork until after the ball has settled into the seats, then tossing his lumber with intensity approaching that of his swing—are beneath the sanctity of the game. They claim it shows up an opponent, that it offers disrespect, that in a world where self-aggrandizement has taken over the sporting landscape, humility is a necessary attribute for our heroes. Yesterday, many of those voices resided in the Rangers’ postgame clubhouse.

They’re not entirely wrong. But they’re not entirely right, either.

The moment would have carried no less gravity had Bautista simply laid down his bat and trotted around the bases. The hit would have been no less important. But the moment Bautista gave us was enduring, as physical a manifestation of pure emotion as will ever be seen on a baseball diamond. It was in every way a gift.

Sports fandom, at its essence, is about embracing the weightiest moments, win or lose. About being fully invested in the outcome of a given play, able to devote one’s emotional energy toward joy or despair, depending upon whether things break your way. Those who criticize things like bat flipping and chest pounding and hand-signs to the dugout after hitting innocuous doubles, who decry them for subjugating key moments at the expense of stoking egos, are correct. Let the moments breathe. A player’s initial actions are inevitably more powerful than his ensuing reactions.

Most of the time.

Sometimes, however, someone transcends it all. Bautista’s display didn’t distract from the moment, or even highlight it—it was the moment, part of it, anyway, as inexorably intertwined with our collective memory as the pitch or the swing or the baserunners or the fans. More so, in many ways. What do we remember of the last greatest Blue Jays moment? Was it the swing Joe Carter put on that ball in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series? Or was it his joyous reaction as he literally leaped around the bases? Do we recall Dennis Eckersley’s backdoor slider, or Kirk Gibson’s fist pump after he deposited it in the bleachers? Would Carlton Fisk’s homer in 1975 mean half of what it does today had he simply rounded the bases instead of physically willing it fair?

This wasn’t some preplanned shtick in some minor moment, no pulling Sharpie from sock following a midseason touchdown. This was one of the game’s great players coming through as profoundly as possible in literally the biggest moment of his career, and responding as such. It was so powerful that Adrian Beltre simply could not keep his feet, taking a seat on the turf as Bautista rounded the bases.

Bautista deserved it. We deserved it. Save the indignation for the .220 hitter who tosses his bat some Tuesday in July. I may well join you. For now, though, I’m going to savor this for as long as I can.

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10 thoughts on “On the Benefits of Embracing the Moment, or: Not All Bat Flips Are Created Equal

  1. I respectfully submit that Mr. Batista’s display was qualitatively different than Mr. Carter’s. Joe Carter’s hit won the World Series, Batista’s hit merely put his team ahead with Texas still having two innings left. If they had come back to win, would his display be criticized for providing them extra incentive? Furthermore after the behavior of the Toronto fans earlier in the same inning don’t you think that Batista basically throwing his bat at the Texas dugout at least a bit unsportsmanlike? How do you think he would respond if the situation had been reversed?

    I have no problem with truly spontaneous displays like that of Joe or Fisk. I am of the opinion that Batista’s did not fall into that category.

    1. The one thing all those situations have in common is an overdose of emotional voltage running through them. That’s the power behind every reaction I mentioned. To your point, I think that had the situation been reversed and Prince Fielder reacted similarly to an equivalent homer for Texas, the Blue Jays would have responded exactly as the Rangers did — with a combination of annoyance and resignation (much of which they would have felt anyway, only without a subject upon which to focus). That’s the power of the moment.

  2. Very nice post, which perfectly captures the emotions that a lot of the fans and even the media were feeling. I still wonder about Jose’s pause before tossing the bat, but after reading this, perhaps I shouldn’t feel so bad about it.

    1. Thanks, James. There are always things to consider — ways Bautista might have acted better or more appropriate — but that comes with the territory of spontaneity. I’m willing to give the guy a pass on that one.

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