The bat flip heard round the world. It has been the subject of countless memes, been played and replayed on sportscast highlights, and it has flooded social media. It’s even been carved onto pumpkins. Time will tell if “the bat flip” will be one of those defining moments of Jose Bautista’s career, like Babe Ruth’s “called shot” was in game three of the 1932 world series.
It has also been the subject of intense media criticism, much of which accused Bautista of attacking the integrity of baseball. Sam Dyson, the pitcher for the Rangers who gave up the game-changing home run, insisted, “Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more … [He] is a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game … It shouldn’t be done.”
Bautista’s official rebuff of such accusations came in the form of an eloquent article he wrote on November 9th for The Players’ Tribune titled “Are You Flipping Kidding Me?” In it, he writes:
There’s no sound in the world like the crack a baseball makes on the sweet spot of my maple Marucci. You blink on contact. The immediate roar of the crowd lifts your sights to see where the ball is going. Imagine the feeling of watching it land in the seats. How would you feel? What would you do?
There was no script. I didn’t plan it. It just happened.
I flipped my bat.
If social media is any measure of popular opinion, then it would seem that Toronto stands behind their Joey Bats and his infamous flip. And it’s one of those moments in sports history that can teach our youth a lot about sportsmanship. Helping our players develop sportsmanship and character, after all, is one of our overarching goals as an organization. As Youth Football Online aptly states, “Character development is just as relevant as learning the game … It’s of utmost importance to be respectful of your teammates and opponents.”
Anyone who loves hockey knows that it is an emotional rollercoaster of a sport. It’s not indifference that motivates our players to get out there on that ice game after game, practice after practice, and give it their all. It’s passion. Celebrating achievements—that perfect goal, that beauty pass, that incredible save—is evidence of that passion.
There is a fine line, however, between celebration and showboating, and it’s not always the easiest line to define. Even the experts don’t seem to agree on where that line exists, as the arguments on both sides of “the bat flip” show us. When we’re dealing with kids, communication is essential to helping our young athletes develop an understanding of the difference between the two.
This is a sentiment echoed by Al Adamsen, trainer for the Positive Coaching Alliance in the San Francisco Bay Area. When asked by a youth coach how to address showboating, he suggests, “[The] key to achieving your goal is communication. Communication is often thought of as a one-time event. It’s not. As John Wooden once said, ‘It’s not what you teach. It’s what you emphasize.’ This could not be more true when you’re communicating with opposing coaches, administrators, players, parents, etc.”
There are two sides to the coin here, and communication needs to be had on both the Moose and the Queen sides (pardon the nod to our Canadiana roots). First, players need to understand that showboating is not a reflection of good sportsmanship. That one’s a given. But second, and less obvious, is that players need to understand that celebration isn’t always showboating. Jose Bautista highlights this point in his article when he goes on to say that his bat flip “wasn’t out of contempt for the pitcher. It wasn’t because I don’t respect the unwritten rules of the game. I was caught up in the emotion of the moment… Those moments are spontaneous. They’re human. And they’re a whole lot of fun.”
When it comes to helping our children develop character in the game of hockey, communication is key. Sam Dyce’s accusation that Bautista is being a poor role model is only a justified one if we don’t help our players, at whatever level they may be in their youth sports career, understand and appreciate the proper place celebration holds in the sport of hockey.
Recognizing the appropriate level of celebration and, just as important, respecting the right of the opposing team to celebrate their own achievements—that is the mark of a mature player.
Photo credit for featured image: Keith Allison