"You could feel it. It was palpable. The energy, the fans across the nation, it still is to this day," Bautista said Friday when asked about playing for the Blue Jays and Canada's team. "These guys are lucky that they get to play with that much of a fan base behind them. It was a great feeling and I'll forever remember that."
Bautista, 42, spent parts of 10 seasons with the Blue Jays from 2008-17. Along with Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez, Bautista is one of the game's great swing change success stories. He authored a .240/.329/.395 batting line and bounced between four different teams from 2004-07, then joined the Blue Jays in a minor trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 21, 2008.
In 2010, Bautista emerged as one of the game's preeminent power hitters, slashing .260/.378/.617 with an MLB-leading 54 home runs. During his peak from 2010-15, Bautista hit .268/.390/.555 with 227 home runs, 28 more than any other player. He was an All-Star every one of those seasons and had four top-eight finishes in the MVP voting.
"There aren't many names as synonymous with Blue Jays baseball as José Bautista, and it is our great honour that he will officially retire in a Blue Jays jersey," Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro said in a statement Friday. "On behalf of a generation of Blue Jays fans that had the privilege of watching his clutch moments on the field and inspiring work ethic – thank you, José, for a mesmerizing decade representing the Toronto Blue Jays."
Bautista left the Blue Jays as a free agent following the 2017 season. He finished his career as a .247/.361/.475 hitter with 344 home runs and 36.7 WAR in parts of 15 seasons. Bautista is top five on Toronto's all-time leaderboard in just about every major offensive category, and is second to Carlos Delgado in runs scored, walks, and home runs.
Bautista will be the 11th member of the Level of Excellence, joining executives Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick; broadcaster Tom Cheek; manager Cito Gaston; and players George Bell, Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez, Roy Halladay, and Dave Stieb.