Whenever the Toronto Blue Jays slugger was singled out by the public-address announcer at Camden Yards — during Opening Day pregame introductions, before at-bats — he was subjected to the ire of a fan base that has grown to loathe him as if he were Public Enemy No. 1.
There was perhaps no greater distillation of their antipathy than a fifth-inning chant that broke out as he stood at the plate, the bases loaded and Toronto trailing. "We don't like you," a cluster of fans hollered in a singsong tone. And there was perhaps no greater feeling of satisfaction around the ballpark than when he lived down to fans' expectations. In the Orioles' 11-inning 3-2 win, that happened quite a few times.
It was a day when sentiment around the six-time All-Star, whom Orioles executive vice president Dan Duqette called a "villain in Baltimore" four months ago, was oddly polarized. Just about anyone with an orange-and-black ball cap and a pulse at Oriole Park booed him when given the opportunity Monday.
But one of the Orioles they cheered the loudest, Jones, their five-time All-Star, had before the game taken a more civil tact. In an interview with MLB Network Radio, Jones praised Bautista and said a reunion with the former Oriole would not be such an imposition. That, though, was more out of respect for his fellow veteran than anything.
"First and foremost, I respect the body of work," Jones said. "I've played against him the last seven years, eight years, and to see what he's done in his career with the transition has been, as a fan of the game, it's been nothing short of amazing.
"That part being said, this clubhouse, the way it's been orchestrated, the way it's been constructed ... we accept any and everybody, honestly. When you go against people, you want to get the better of them [in] competition, whenever it gets heated. ... But when you're on the same team, then you figure out a way to make it all work, so I think he would've been accepted in here, just because I know the character of men that we have in here."
The bad blood between Bautista and the Orioles dates to 2013, when Bautista and Orioles reliever Darren O'Day engaged in the usual hitter-pitcher theatrics: some verbal sparring, that'll-show-you home runs, questionable celebrations, retaliatory pitches.
In 2015, Jones told reporters that he wished Bautista had "respect[ed] the game" after hitting a home run in Toronto that Bautista then admired from the batter's box and punctuated with a bat flip.
When Bautista hit the open market this past offseason, the idea that he might come back to Baltimore, where he played briefly in 2004 before being waived, was a nonstarter. "I'm not going to go tell our fans that we're courting Jose Bautista for the Orioles because they're not going to be happy," Duquette told The Baltimore Sun in early December.
They were happy to see him struggle in the season opener. After an introduction at Camden Yards that provoked widespread discontent and sounded like a jet engine's roar, Bautista grounded out his first time up. He drew a walk in the third inning before his bases-loaded opportunity came and went. The Blue Jays brought home their first run on the next at-bat in the fifth inning, but there was some appreciation in Camden Yards that at least it wasn't Bautista who had done it.
His fourth time up, he struck out looking. More cheers. In the ninth inning, with runners at first and second, another routine grounder became an inning-ending double play. His final at-bat, in the 11th, was also the Blue Jays' last: another groundout, more jeers.
Bautista finished 0-for-5 with eight runners left on base, but he did not sign a one-year, $18 million deal in January for nothing. While his defense last season rated as below average, he threw out Chris Davis at second as the Orioles slugger tried to stretch a third-inning single. His right arm saved a run; Mark Trumbo doubled a few pitches later.
In the ninth inning, his glove forced extra innings. Bautista's nearly full-extension grab in right field robbed Joey Rickard of a base hit and caught Welington Castillo far off first base for an easy double play.
When Trumbo homered in the bottom of the 11th inning to end the game, Bautista jogged leisurely back into the visiting dugout. The fans who had booed him were too distracted by fireworks and cheering and the celebration at home plate to pay him much attention.