Our theme for the month of October is “the elements.”

The MLB playoffs have been incredible this year. In the best-of-five divisional round, three of the four series went to a Game 5, with some incredible baseball being played along the way and an unusual selection of teams advancing. Even the most casual baseball fan can regard the teams that advanced—the Cubs, the Mets, the Blue Jays, and the Royals—and understand that this is a strange and wonderful year in the MLB postseason.

Drama has unfolded in all of the series so far, but I’d like to focus on one series—the Blue Jays-Rangers—and in particular, on one inning in that series: the seventh inning of Game 5.

So much more could be said about this inning, but the short version is that the Blue Jays went into the bottom half of the seventh down 3-2 to the Rangers in the deciding game of the playoff series. The Rangers had scored a run in the top half of the inning to take the lead, but it was a controversial play, and tensions in the stadium were running high. The Rangers, given a chance to hold a lead, proceeded to commit three consecutive errors, loading the bases with nobody out. A fielder’s choice managed to bring one run home and tie the game, and after another groundout, the Blue Jays were left with men on first and third with two outs and one of their best players, Jose Bautista, coming to the plate with a chance to be a hero. I’ll let you watch what happened next.

 

 

Watch that again, and note especially how Bautista, having no further use for his bat, disposes of it with both verve and vigor. The gesture did not go unnoticed by Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, who after the game said regarding the bat flip:

Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more. He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game, and I mean he’s doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done.

His sentiments were backed up by other Rangers players and many on the Twitterverse, who regarded the display as unnecessarily showy and unprofessional. Like Dyson, many of the tweeters invoked the behavior of children to criticize Bautista on his reaction.

To be clear, this was no ordinary homer. It occurred late in the final game of a playoff series for a team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 1993. Jose Bautista, in probably the most important, high-leverage moment of his professional life, hit a titanic home run that more or less ensured his team’s passage into the next round. If that is not a justifiable cause for celebration, what is?

Professional baseball is a multi-billion dollar business that supports thousands upon thousands of jobs. What too often gets lost in the shuffle is that it is also a game, and amidst all the dollars and all the media and all the debates, we should never forget that games are supposed to be exciting and fun. No one understands the joy of sports better than children (if you hesitate to agree, watch this clip from the same inning). So while I think Dyson and co. are correct in describing Bautista’s celebration as child-like, I couldn’t disagree with them more about the sentiment behind it. I would contend that in moments like the seventh inning last Wednesday, the only appropriate reaction for a Blue Jay or Blue Jay fan is child-like joy.

I played baseball my entire childhood and have continued to keep up with it and to play whenever I get the opportunity. I did not play because I had a future as a professional; I played because I loved the game. Even now, stepping onto a baseball field causes a shiver to run down my spine. Watching Jose Bautista after his home run serves as a reminder that, in the words of Dodgers Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella, “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you too.”

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