Hammer

Hitting a baseball can drive a batter insane. Tossed by an elite pitcher, the ball appears on a straight line, but at the last instant drops, curves, flutters and darts right or left.

Some of the best swatters in baseball history like Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs have all thrown down their bat in disgust.

So it’s no wonder even those projected to be top-notch hitters have had very short careers.

Locating a baseball that’s in flight and traveling 95 miles an hour and driving it past an infielder and into the outfield gap is one of the most difficult things a player can do on the diamond. Even tougher still is knocking the ball over the fence.

Those who are able to perform this single act well such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Henry Aaron are placed on an even higher level. For those few are truly gifted.

Since 2010 and through this past weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays’ right fielder Jose Bautista has created a national buzz. On Saturday, he cracked two homers and drove in four runs en route to a 7-5 victory over the visiting Houston Astros in an inter-league match.

Six days earlier, Bautista ripped three homers in an 11-3 win over the host Minnesota Twins, and on April 23, the right-handed slugger from the Dominican Republic slapped two home runs in a 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay.

Through Sunday, Bautista has a major-league leading 18 homers with 31 runs batted in and a .353 batting average.

Unproductive in 2004 and 2005, Bautista paced the majors with 54 homers and drove in 124 runs a season ago, and while many thought it a fluke, the 30-year-old has silenced his skeptics.

Why has Bautista suddenly become Superman? Is he really that good or is he being helped by steroids or HGH (human growth hormone)?

“He has a real plan when he’s up at the plate,’’ said longtime baseball writer Ken Rosenthal, now at Fox Sports. “I don’t think it would be fair to say he’s on the juice because there’s no evidence that he is. You have to give him credit until he’s found to have taken something.”

Up until 2010, Bautista exhibited no sign of being a bona fide power hitter. The most home runs he smacked were 16 in 2006, and 15 twice over the next two seasons.

Some players are drafted and make a big splash early. For others, it takes a while, and even then most fail to make a significant dent.

Bautista’s climb to the top was unexpected. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 20th round in 2000, he was going nowhere fast. In 2004, Bautista was on the roster of the New York Mets, Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

That season, Bautista played in 64 games and had 88 at-bats with 18 hits and two runs batted in. This was followed by a season in which he played in 11 games and had 28 at-bats with one RBI.

Finally in 2006, Bautista, a one-time All-Star, saw the light of day with the Bucs as he had 400 at-bats and belted 16 homers while driving in 51, and added 15 homers with 63 RBIs.

Right now, whenever one thinks of the ultimate long-ball threat, Bautista’s name is at the top of the list.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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