Bautista eager to recruit, return favor
Slugger, NCAA teaming up for student-athlete program
Jose Bautista was close to walking away from baseball. After graduating high school, he spent his mornings working out at a baseball academy and his nights taking college courses in the Dominican Republic.
Bautista did this for two semesters, hoping it would help lead to a professional contract. Bautista worked out for the Yankees. The Diamondbacks also took a look. In the end, though, he was not willing to sacrifice his education for the type of offers that came his way.
"I never received an offer that my family thought was good enough for me to drop out of college," Bautista said.
Bautista prepared himself for a third semester of classes, but this time he was going to dedicate himself to his education and put baseball in the rear-view mirror. That is when Bautista received a phone call from his old Little League coach. It was a call that sent him on a path to the big league stage.
"I was basically going to call it quits," Bautista said. "It really came down to about five days before I had to show up for the first class. It was last-minute."
Oscar Perez, Bautista's former coach, worked for an organization called the Latin Athletes Education Fund, which is led by Don Odermann. It is a group that works with the NCAA and provides financial assistance to kids like Bautista, Latin athletes trying to find a way to pursue education and sports.
Coming off a historic 54-home run season as an All-Star for the Blue Jays, Bautista wants to do what Perez and Odermann were able to do for him so many years ago. Bautista is currently in contact with the NCAA, working out the details of a recruiting program that will help place Latin American athletes in colleges around the United States.
Bautista plans on beginning with the Dominican Republic and he hopes to expand his initiative to other countries as time goes on.
"The general idea is going to be recruiting student athletes that are a good representation to my country," Bautista said. "It's just like somebody helped me when I was trying to sign as a free agent and couldn't get a deal done. I had somebody help me and it allowed me to go to the United States to pursue my college education and play baseball at the same time.
"It ended up in a lot of doors and opportunities opening for me. One of those was the chance to play professional baseball and ultimately make it to the big leagues and have this historic season that I just got done with."
When Perez called Bautista, the young Dominican was told that Chipola Community College in Florida was looking for an outfielder -- one that could perform well in school. Because he had already looked into college scholarships, Bautista had the necessary paperwork ready and he was in Florida only a few days later.
At Chipola in 2000, Bautista hit .289 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs over 152 at-bats. He also logged 6 1/3 innings as a pitcher, and did not allow a single run. The chance to suit up for the Indians led to Bautista being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 20th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft.
A decade later, Bautista is baseball's reigning home run king.
Now thrust into the spotlight, Bautista is in a better position than ever to give back. The general plan for Bautista's initiative will be for him to "serve as a contact, or the bridge" between hand-picked student-athletes in the Dominican Republic and various colleges around the United States.
Once the students are placed in their colleges, Bautista hopes to be able to provide financial assistance in certain areas. He currently is in communication with lawyers and the NCAA to make sure that everything is by the books.
"Some kids don't have enough to pay for the plane tickets," Bautista said, "or the meals, or the books, or whatever tuition the school might not cover, a lot of the expeneses that go along with going to college.
"Even though those might be normal things and normal prices for the common American, I know it's a lot of money for kids coming out of the Dominican Republic."
That kind of assistance is a large part of the reason Bautista has developed into the player he is today for the Blue Jays. He has not forgotten the important role that Perez, Odermann and others played in his success, and Bautista is hoping to be there for kids who are in the same position he was so many years ago.
"I've started recruiting kids already," Bautista said. "I can't wait for that to start."