BOND HEAD, Ont. — Jose Bautista is using his off-day to help make the world a better place. And if he can improve his swing, so be it.
Rare is a Blue Jays summer off-day in their dogged pursuit of a playoff return. Yet Toronto Blue Jays players past and present made the hour-long drive north of the Rogers Centre Monday to participate in the fifth annual Jose Bautista Celebrity Golf Classic and raise money for a cause close to Bautista’s heart.
The Blue Jays right fielder established the Bautista Family Education Fund in 2011 as his way of paying good will forward. In its inaugural year, the foundation focused on youth from his home country of the Dominican Republic but it has since expanded to Canadian athletes as well.
Student-athletes from a variety of sports who excel both on the field and in the classroom are given mentorship through collegiate life as well as subsidies for meals and room and board as they balance the demands of their training and their studies.
Bautista says the BFEF has already helped 17 athletes graduate university.
“It’s amazing to see how far some of these have come,” Bautista says. “One of our longest-standing kids that we’ve been helping out, Jonathan Gallant, he went to college in Georgia. We got him as a freshman, and he’s graduated this year with a cum laude degree in logistics.”
It does not go unnoticed that the baseball star rolls up to the GTA golf course in a tangerine 2017 Audi R8, scooping his golf attire out from the trunk in the sportscar’s hood — a flashy symbol of how high one can soar with a little boost.
“I’m trying to open up some doors and give kids opportunities to be student-athletes at the collegiate level that they might not have without our help. I received help from a similar foundation back in the day,” he says. “This is just my way of paying it back.”
A young Bautista benefited greatly from a similar program, the Latin Athletes Education Fund, as he moved from a middle-class Dominican Republic household to pursue his baseball dreams while studying business at Mother and Teacher Pontifical Catholic University.
The 36-year-old slugger, who was raised in a middle-class family, says he’s not sure how far he would’ve made it without the financial and mentorship support he received early on.
“That would be hard to tell,” he says. “I know that somebody did open that door for me and created those opportunities, and luckily I was able to take off and run with it.”
Having flown in late from their 3-3 West Coast swing, self-described “average” golfer Josh Donaldson said he’d typically spend a mid-season vacation day “sleeping” instead, but Bautista is his friend and he recognizes the importance of the cause.
“My mom always told me I couldn’t play sports if I didn’t make the grades,” Donaldson says.
Former teammate J.P. Arencibia was in Nashville watching the Stanley Cup being awarded to the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday night. He woke up early and flew north in time to tee-off.
“[Bautista] does a lot of good people don’t realize, not only for his country but for a lot of kids in Toronto and Canada,” Arencibia says.
“I’ve always been a fan of what he does for other people. That’s the biggest thing. I know how much he cares for other people having the opportunities that he had.”
Joe Carter, with whom Bautista is linked in Jays post-season homer lore, was happy to lend his support to such a smart cause as well.
“Education? C’mon. That’s how we get better as a country, as a world. So hats off to Jose for doing that. It’s a phenomenal thing he’s doing,” says Carter, who is counting on Bautista to appear at his own golf fundraiser Thursday.
“To much is given much is expected. I’ve always told the kids, ‘Look. Not everyone is going to make it in sports. Even the elite, sometimes they don’t make it. So you always want to have something to fall back on.’”