Home run king Bautista ready to be a big hit

Fri Jul 8, 2011 8:44am EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - After spending much of his career as an anonymous member of the supporting cast, Jose Bautista steps into the spotlight next week as the unlikely headliner of Major League Baseball's (MLB)glitziest show - the Mid-Summer Classic.

Never heard of Bautista? Until recently few had, but the wider baseball world is sure to know more about the Toronto Blue Jays slugger after Tuesday's All-Star game in Phoenix where the smooth-swinging Dominican will be the main attraction.

Opposing pitchers are all too aware of Bautista, who came from nowhere last season to lead the Major Leagues in home runs with 54 and is on pace to better that mark this season having already slammed a league-best 28 going into Thursday's game in Cleveland.

In the last season-and-a-half, the prodigious 30-year-old slugger has hit 82 homers yet has somehow managed to fly under the fan radar.

In May, Time magazine published an article headlined: 'Jose Bautista: The Best Baseball Player You've Never Heard Of'.

While the top players in North America's three other major professional sports leagues -- the NBA's LeBron James, NFL's Tom Brady and NHL's Sidney Crosby -- are instantly recognizable celebrity endorsers, the Time article suggested most sports fans would not know Bautista from Batman.

In any sport, Bautista's story would be a compelling feel-good tale worthy of the Hollywood treatment.

An unwanted journeyman, who late in his career discovers the sweetest of home-run swings to become baseball's home-run king, is pure gold for a sport that has seen its popularity eroded and image tarnished by a string of seedy steroid scandals.   Continued...

<p>Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista follows through on a single against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts July 4, 2011. REUTERS/Adam Hunger</p>