It’s hard not to feel good on Opening Day. After all, you’ve had a few months off, you’re playing in front of a packed house, and a new season of unlimited possibility is upon you.
But after that, the grind begins. A 161-game grind, to be exact.
That’s when good players – or in the case of Toronto’s Jose Bautista, All-Stars – prove their worth.
“I’m feeling great,” Bautista told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as co-host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “My body is responding real well to the beginning of the season. It’s always tough going from making that adjustment and playing day games in spring training and now playing night games and traveling. But my body is responding well. Obviously I’m not where I want to be right now offensively, but it’s a work in progress and it’s a long season. I enjoy the challenge every day. And I’m still eager and happy and excited about the beginning of the season.”
Bautista is hitting just .172 through nine games, but he knows it’s still very early.
“It’s always hard not to pay attention, but you kind of get to learn how to deal with that over time,” Bautista said of slow starts. “Like I said, it’s such a production and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of sport. It’s hard to not look at it. But you’ve been around enough to where you know that just because you have a rough first two weeks (doesn’t mean your numbers will look that way) at the end of September. You keep that in mind. You try to contribute on a daily basis and have good at-bats and allow those results to kind of pile up on their own and you’ll be fine.”
Bautista hit 35 home runs to go with 103 RBIs last year. He has two long balls and six RBIs on the young 2015 season.
“I feel pretty good about the contributions I’ve made so far,” Bautista said. “My batting average might not be where I want it to be, but that goes up and down a lot during the season, so I’m not too concerned about that. I’m more concerned about RBIs, getting on base for my teammates (and) scoring runs. I’ve done well so far, and I’d like to keep on piling those up.”
The Blue Jays (5-4) are 1-2 at home but 4-2 on the road, where they occasionally have a fairly loyal following. In fact, seemingly all of Canada roots for Toronto, the only MLB team north of the border.
“It’s unreal,” Bautista said. “They’re really hardcore fans. The best evidence of that is every time we play one of those teams that are near the border like Seattle, Detroit – even Boston and Cleveland – we have a huge turnout. I can honestly say that’s we get more fans when we play in Seattle than the Mariners do. People fly down from Vancouver. It’s crazy.
“When batting practice is about to start, they open the gates at 5 o’clock,” Bautista continued. “That’s right when we stretch on the field and you can hear people running down the hallways. It sounds like a pack of wild horses just running down, coming at you like an avalanche. It’s amazing to see, and it’s great knowing you have so many diehard fans behind you. We get great support throughout Canada. I’ve experienced it playing in those close-to-the-border towns. It’s been real fun to see the turnout.”
One player who doesn’t like seeing the Blue Jays – or at least Bautista? That would be Orioles reliever Darren O’Day. Bautista said O’Day struck him out a few years ago and started running his mouth.
“Ever since then, it’s been a back and forth of who’s going to have the last word,” Bautista said. “Since that happened, I ended up hitting a home run. Then he hit me with a pitch. Then he tried to hit me again. Then I hit another home run.”
Bautista launched a two-run homer off O’Day in a 10-7 Toronto win April 12.
“I guess right now I’m the one with the last word,” Bautista said, “but we have plenty of matches to come up, and I’m going to enjoy those as a competitor. I’ll try to keep it as professional as possible, but there’s a lot of tension there. As a person, I have nothing against that guy. But as a competitor, he’s one of the guys I want to beat the most when I’m out on the field.”