He's the face of Blue Jays baseball, front and center in every poster around Toronto. He's a six-time All-Star who regularly engages with fans from his robust social media following. With more than 834,000 followers on Twitter, Jose Bautista is one of the most beloved players in baseball -- or was.
"I'm not lately," Bautista said during batting practice before Game 3 of the ALCS. "But, it doesn't bother me. I know who I am, and I'm enjoying the game. I'm not going to let outside voices affect me."
Maybe that's because Bautista's actions are doing the talking for him. In the ALDS clincher against the Rangers, Bautsita hit a three-run shot to send the Blue Jays to the next round. The emotion of the moment wasn't lost on anyone, particularly Bautista, as he chucked his bat in the air toward the opposing team's dugout. It was the bat flip heard round the world, and it drew plenty of criticism. But not everyone in baseball had a problem with it.
"I would have loved to see where it landed," Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. "I thought it was hilarious. I laughed at it. When emotions are riding that high, you feel like you can do anything out there."
Several Royals share Cain's sentiment. However, Royals fans feel differently. Bautista has become public enemy No. 1 in Kansas City, with each of his at-bats drawing loud boos on Kauffman Stadium.
"He's one of the characters of the game, one of the most feared power hitters," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "When you're the top dog of a clubhouse, it's almost like you become the villain. He's sort of turned into a villain in Kansas City, but it's a big misperception of his personality."
There's no mistaking why Royals fans would have reason to boo Bautista, though. After securing the final out in the fifth inning of the ALCS opener, Bautista pretended to throw a ball to fans in the Kauffman Stadium stands. He also stewed over a strike called in an at-bat earlier in the game.
For Bautista, who's playing in the postseason for the first time in a 12-year career that has taken him from journeyman to superstar, the recent reaction is to be expected.
"Kansas City has a passionate fan base," Bautista said. "They're going to rally around their team, and I know that."
Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna laughed when asked about Bautista's playoff backlash.
"He thrives off of it," Osuna said. "Of course he does."
As Bautista finds ways to thrive off the criticism, his teammates are feeding off of that energy. As they try to claw back from behind in yet another series, the usually affable Bautista may just be the villain Toronto needs.
While it's a persona, and likely a temporary one at that, his teammates are quick to tell you about the real version of Bautista. The one they see every day.
"He's an awesome teammate, he's one of the leaders on this team," second baseman Ryan Goins said. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be where we're at at this point. He comes to the field every day and has everyone's backs. So, he has the support from the rest of us."