The entire country came together last fall to rally behind the Toronto Blue Jays as they triumphed in the American League East. The fervour crescendoed with José Bautista’s glorious bat flip, a moment of pure #f-ckyeah immortalized in a thousand memes (and even a Christmas sweater). Dominican-born Bautista, 35, has long been considered the unofficial heart of the team, routinely going yard (he hit more homers than any other major leaguer between 2010 and 2015), running the outfield like a boss and being chosen for the Major League Baseball All-Star team six times. And no matter the score, he always exudes the sexy swagger of a champion (we could watch him stretching and stretching and stretching for hours, TBH). On the eve of the 2016 season, we spoke to our #1 baseball bae Joey Bats about what’s to come, those famous dingers—and the strangest thing a fan has ever given him.
When did you know you wanted to spend your life playing baseball?
For as long as I can remember.
What do you think makes the Blue Jays different from the other MLB teams?
There’s a lot of loyalty and a lot of love for the team. We’re the only team that has a whole country to itself. And that’s really important.
What are the biggest challenges of being a pro ball player?
Discipline. You want to eat bad, you want to stay up on your iPad or watch TV late at night, but you have to make sacrifices so you can be the best athlete you can be—that’s what you deserve, that’s what your family deserves, that’s what the fans deserve, that’s what the team deserves.
Why do you love baseball, specifically?
It’s just a very strategic sport. You gotta be really good at anticipating what’s about to happen: that way, you’re not scrambling to figure it out as you do it. It’s like you’ve already played the game in your head.
How does it feel to hit a home run?
When you put a good swing on the ball, it’s just a feeling of perfection: that seamless timing, and the harmony between what’s surrounding you and you going into that flow and not disrupting it in any way.
What moment do you treasure the most from your fantastic season last year?
Being able to go to the playoffs for the first time in a long career. I’ve got five or six more years left in me, at least. But that’s the first taste I got.
Was it hard to deal with the disappointment of not going all the way to the playoffs? It’s actually worse, getting so close you can feel it and wanting it so bad. Losing sucks, and I don’t like it—I don’t ever want to lose again.
What do you want to improve most for this season?
I’ve been diving a lot into nutrition, recovery and sleep. I think there are still hurdles to cross in [terms of] proper supplementation, the proper tracking of what happens to my body—especially how travel, day and night games, and all those variables affect it.
Now, when it comes to off the field, how would you describe your style?
Put-together yet edgy. I like to be very expressive with my clothes and how I look instead of [actually] being expressive—I am not a very expressive person in public. I just don’t see a need to, so I try to be as expressive as I can [through fashion].
It makes sense that you’d have to develop a bit of a remove when the fans can get so crazy. What is the funniest or strangest thing a fan has ever given you?
Oh, man, I’ve gotten everything from four-leaf clover collections to requests to “sign my underwear” or “sign my sock” or “send me your dirty socks.” People have tattoos of me. They send me food (cookies, cake, popcorn), clothes, a lot of stuffed animals—and a lot of weird stuff. The weirdest was that somebody actually hand-made a doll of me that looked like a voodoo doll. It reminded me so much of me that I just didn’t want it around, so I got rid of it.
Psssst: download the Sportsnet NOW live streaming digital app to keep up with all the action this season (and Joey Bats’ finest stretching moments).