When Toronto Blue Jays right fielder José Bautista steps up, the smart step back — especially when they’re staring down the receiving end of his swing. But the six-time MLB All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger isn’t simply one of the best hitters in the American League. The often-outspoken outfielder is proof that patience and persistence are the formula for producing one formidable ball player.
“It’s not like I went on a search to do things differently than others,” admits the two-consecutive-season MLB home-run leader. “Instead, it was more of a desire to be the best athlete I could be by listening to my body, understanding what worked and what didn’t — then always choosing to follow that path.”
It’s that “perception” approach to performance that’s led Bautista to his current success at a slow and steady pace. Although other achievements were easier to obtain growing up — the power hitter was among those at the top of his class, and the youngest in his high-school graduating class — his fast track to the Big Leagues took another course. Though he participated in three different baseball leagues throughout high school, Bautista pursued college — turning down offers to play minor league for a major in business instead — until the Pittsburgh Pirates came calling in 2000 with a contract he simply couldn’t balk at. He was just 19.
That year, he wasn’t anyone’s top choice, but being picked in the 20th round of the MLB Draft (number 599 to be exact) never fazed him. “I play the sport because I love it first — and everything else after that is second,” says Bautista. “Playing competitive sports growing up was definitely tough, but the challenge of figuring out a way to continue to move forward was a very difficult task as well.”
The Dominican-born baseball icon, nicknamed “Joey Bats,” believes there are varying levels of accomplishment, depending on how you look at things. “Success isn’t necessarily reflected by personal highlights or accolades,” says Bautista, who feels that anyone that tries something difficult, and always does his best, should look at that effort as a triumph. “If I had never made it to the big leagues — if I hadn’t gotten all the personal successes I’ve achieved at this level — I would still consider my career a success because there were a lot of obstacles I had overcome at different points of time in my life.”
Some of those hurdles included being traded after three years of minor league ball in 2004, only to jump between four teams — the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the New York Mets — before landing back with the Pittsburgh Pirates where he would play with mixed results for another four and a half years. The reshuffling made Bautista the first and only player to ever appear on five different Major League rosters in a single season. But as he explains, it also marks a time in his life when changing his angle on the game became essential.
“In my late 20s, I started noticing how my body changed with time, and that I couldn’t get away with being as free-willed as I once was,” he says. “But instead of giving in and just accepting that I was getting older, I took that as a challenge and realized that I needed to make some adjustments and continue to be on the search to feeling good every day — and it’s been a fun ride.”
Along that “ride” came the break of being traded in 2008 to the Toronto Blue Jays. After making a few modifications at the plate (with the assistance of batting coach Dwayne Murphy and then-Toronto manager Cito Gaston), Bautista’s restructured batting style transformed into the explosive swing that opposing pitchers would rather walk than lock horns with. But evolving has always been second nature to the ever-versatile athlete, who handled five different positions up until the trade as a utility player.
“Growing up, I was always playing multiple positions, not because I liked it, but I saw it as a challenge, and I was big into mimicking and imitating big leaguers,” he recalls. “It was fun for me, and that’s how I kept everything exciting at all times. Often, it was just out of necessity for my team, and having the ability to play other positions — and having coaches recognize that they can move you around a little bit — was always a plus.”
In the Right
Today, number 19 has finally found his niche as an ace right fielder notorious for launching long balls. But even with 318 career homers under his belt (as of June 1), the 36-year-old has no current plans of ending his dynasty of demolishing whatever pitches come his way.
“For me, it’s about constantly learning, adapting and growing as a person, and I still make adjustments on a day-to-day basis that I hope are going to keep me on the field for a long time,” he says. “I love playing this game, and that’s what has gotten me this far, that’s the way it all started for me and that's how I’ve kept it going. And hopefully, that’s the way I’ll finish up — whenever that day finally happens.”
Exercise Like an All-Star!
“Baseball is more of a marathon than a sprint compared to other sports, so I’m always looking at how to sustain my energy level for a long period of time to get through the long grind,” says Bautista. That’s why during the three-month offseason, he sticks to a two-hour strength and conditioning regimen five days a week with a focus on endurance, injury prevention and strength maximization. “By spring training, I’m in entirely different shape than I am both during and at the end of the season.”
Although his workouts vary depending on what areas need improvement after a long season, they often rely on a series of plyometric exercises (such as lateral jumps), agility drills, heavy lifts (including one-legged barbell deadlifts), and baseball-specific functional movements to strengthen his hips and core using kettlebells, physioballs, cables and rubber bands.
But beyond building his power, strength and endurance, a portion of Bautista’s workouts are aimed at what he calls “unwinding” his body. “When you’re a rotational athlete that constantly performs movements in one direction, it’s like driving your car with the wheel always turned in the same direction,” he says. “Do it for too long and [you’ll] wear your tires out more on one side than the other.”
To combat that wear and tear, Bautista (and his trainer Ryan Bruggeman) balance things out by incorporating a variety of movements that improve his flexibility and strength simultaneously. “It’s not just about being flexible, but about owning every range of motion,” says Bautista, who insists it’s critical to be able to sustain all of the different positions his body gets placed in during the season.
“I’m always looking to get the most out of my muscles and work on my weaknesses,” he admits. “Even after New Year’s, when I start getting ready for baseball with some long tossing, throwing and hitting, I continue the same strength training schedule right up until spring training because you can’t just show up, pick up a bat and start swinging — it really doesn’t work that way.”
Eat Like an Athlete!
When it comes to diet, Bautista is always aware of how many grams of protein, fat and carbs he needs, and how important it is to spread those calories out over five or six meals a day. A few of his favorite repasts include egg white omelets, grilled chicken breast with beans and rice, sauteed fish, fruit-and-protein shakes, and all-natural nutrition bars (made from dried fruit, nuts and granola). But he also admits he’s blessed with a fast metabolism that allows him to eat whatever he wishes most of the year.
“During the season, it’s a little tougher to eat healthy because I’m traveling with the team, and even though nutrition is definitely important, it’s one of the hardest areas, I think, to improve on because [professional athletes] tend to eat with our eyes more than with our brains,” he laughs. “Plus, being in such a high-stress environment where you’re playing every single day — and every game matters — I’ll lean more toward certain comfort foods to break up the monotony.”
Bautista plays catch-up with his nutrition in the offseason. After having blood tests done (something he’s adamant about twice a year), Bautista uses the results to temporarily custom tailor his eating. “I’ll try to fix anything not at an optimal level by eating foods rich in whichever nutrients my body lacks,” he says. “You would be surprised how much better you can feel physically by just changing your diet for a few months and taking the time to really listen to what your body is trying to tell you.”