"Start earlier!" Toronto batting coach Dwayne Murphy told him. The message seemed the same—but Bautista doesn't think so. "Everybody had always told me I was late swinging the bat," Bautista says. "Well, I knew that. But they didn't really tell me what to do about it. Or anyway, I didn't get the message, you know?"
"We just had to get him on time," Gaston says. "That was the biggest thing with Jose."
Murphy and Bautista changed the mechanics of his swing. "He had that natural bat speed," Murphy says. "He was a natural pull hitter. But he didn't know how to pull the ball. I told him that with that bat speed he should destroy inside fastballs." Murphy moved Bautista closer to the plate. They fashioned a front leg kick to give him better timing. Bautista tried. He started his swing earlier. Then earlier still. "Jose listens," Gaston says with pride in his voice. But it made no difference. Even after Rios cleared waivers on Aug. 10, giving Bautista his cherished place in the lineup, the Blue Jays' new rightfielder hit .161 during those first four weeks. He hit one home run. Nothing felt natural. He felt miserable.
"I am starting earlier," he told Murphy, but the batting coach shook his head. Before the game in which Bautista would face Baker, teammate Vernon Wells sat next to him in the clubhouse.
"You know what you should do," Wells said. "Think about starting as early as you can possibly imagine, so early that it seems ridiculous. And then start even earlier than that. What do you have to lose? If you look like a fool, you look like a fool. It's just one game."
It was just one game. Bautista stepped in against Scott Baker in the bottom of the second inning. O.K., he would remember thinking, I'm going to start so early it will be ridiculous. Baker pitched, and Bautista felt as if he started his swing before Baker even let go of the ball—"I thought, You want early, I'll show you early." He expected to miss everything, but he felt his bat hit ball. It was more than that, though, because the feeling of hitting a baseball hard, really hard, doesn't feel like anything else in the world.
The ball smashed against the leftfield wall so hard, Bautista thought he could hear the impact over the sounds of the cheers.
Holy s---, Bautista remembered thinking as he stood at second base. What was that?
AMAZING TRUE SPORTS STORY: Outfielder Hank Sauer
Nobody wanted to give Hank Sauer a chance to play when he was young. This might have been because of his glove—the leftfielder's lack of grace in the outfield is well-documented—but it mainly seemed to be out of stubbornness. Once a baseball decision-maker decides someone can't play, it's hard to change his mind. Sauer hit well for the Reds during brief call-ups in 1941, '42 and '45. He kept getting sent down. He did not play a full season until '48, when he was 31. He hit 35 home runs that season. Playing for the Cubs, Cardinals and Giants, he would hit 30-plus home runs five times, including 37 in his MVP season of 1952, before retiring in '59, at age 42. From '48 to '54 only Ralph Kiner hit more home runs than Sauer.