DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jose Bautista(notes) may have still been struggling to find his role the last time he arrived in spring training, but there's no doubting his role in this year's camp. He's the new face of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise, an assured and calming presence as the team moves into a new era of trying to climb back atop the tough AL East.
Yes, smacking a league-high 54 homers in 2010 and signing a $65 million contract would thrust any player into the spotlight. But Bautista seemed to take special relish in being in as many places as he could at once on Monday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
One minute he was fielding bunts at third base during infield drills, the next he was in the batting cage hitting balls over the outfield fence. Later, after getting in two at-bats against the Philadelphia Phillies, he retired to the right-field line, where he ran wind sprints with new teammate Rajai Davis(notes). After that, he stood in front of a sizable and excited crowd, signing autographs for everyone who wanted one, then conducted a few interviews in both English and Spanish. With Vernon Wells(notes) now plying his trade near Disneyland, there's no mistaking where the cameras turn when it comes to Toronto.
Will Bautista hit 54 homers again this season? Maybe, but probably not. Regardless, the reviews from media and other Blue Jays players say that this is a man who's willing to be a rock for his teammates. Throw in that duty with another OPS over .900 and the Jays will happily take it.
Click below for more pictures from Monday's visit in Dunedin.
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Speaking of franchise faces, the guy before the last guy made an appearance in his old haunts as a precursor to his long-awaited return to Toronto this summer. But despite two scoreless innings and the presence of a lot of Phillies fans who made the short drive from Clearwater — take 576 west, hang a right at the guns and ammo shop — Roy Halladay(notes) couldn't get fully comfortable in his old stomping grounds: As our own Tim Brown writes, the visitor's locker room at the park is where Doc was demoted to Single-A ball in 2001.
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No matter how many times you come to spring training, you're bound to see an exercise that you've never seen before. On Tuesday, it was Jon Rauch(notes) (center) and the rest of the Blue Jays bullpen playing a modified version of Bozo buckets on one of the back fields.
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Monday was my first time out at Florida Auto Exchange Park and it's the type of spring training place that I prefer. No, it doesn't have the bells and whistles of the newer fortresses — some might use words stronger than that — but it's spring baseball on the scale that I grew up watching and now prefer as an adult. Tucked away in the middle of a Dunedin neighborhood, the cozy confines ensure that there's plenty of interaction between the players, fans and media.
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Finally, I'm always a sucker for the section of minor league ballparks where they proudly list all the alumni that reached the bigs. Behold just some of the former Dunedin Blue Jays!