TORONTO — Jose Bautista did not have to drop out of school to pursue a career in baseball, and he wants to make sure some amateur athletes are afforded that same luxury.
Bautista grew up with a middle-class family in the Dominican Republic. His mother was an accountant, his father ran poultry farms and, regardless of Bautista’s ambitions to play professional sports, it was never allowed to take away from his education.
The biggest break Bautista received early in his career was when he received support from the Latin Athletes Education Fund, which helped baseball players from Spanish-speaking countries attend school in the United States. Bautista is now trying to repay that favor with the Bautista Family Education Fund.
“I think there has been a great impact,” Bautista said of his foundation. “Obviously, when you can help these kids into not giving up their dream to continue to play sports while getting their education, I think it’s a great opportunity. Some of them can find their way and figure out what they want to do in life without having to sacrifice either or.
“There are 37 right now in school — seven graduates already — the GPA cumulative is 3.4, which is unheard of. We raised our expectations a little bit, they seem to respond. We not only give them financial assistance, but we try to guide them and be the liaison between the kids and the school just to make sure they have everything they need to be successful.”
Far too often in the Dominican Republic, young teenagers are forced to choose between attending school or enrolling in a local baseball academy with the hopes of pursuing their dreams. Bautista wants people to know young athletes can find a way to focus on both school and a future in athletics.
That’s one of the main reasons that Bautista created his foundation. It was launched in 2011 and has financed 37 athletes through post-secondary school on scholarships throughout the United States and Canada. Bautista also made sure his foundation impacted not only Dominicans, but also those from the Caribbean, South America and North America.
All applicants for a BFEF scholarship must be enrolled or accepted into a post-secondary program, have a GPA of 2.8 of higher and are required to pass a test of English as a foreign language. The scholarships cover the cost of everything from education to meal plans, books and housing. It’s also not limited to baseball players and covers athletes from other sports as well.
“I’m a big believer and proponent that education should not be sacrificed just for the chance to play any particular sport,” Bautista said. “I know I’ve done it and I know all of the kids can do it too.”
Bautista’s biggest fundraiser of the year took place on Thursday when he held his annual celebrity golf tournament at Eagles Nest Golf Club in Toronto. Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, Justin Smoak, Devon Travis, Russell Martin, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez were among the Blue Jays players who attended the event. Celebrities included NHL player P.K. Subban, former CFL quarterback Damon Allen and NHL alumni Mike Krushelnyski.
BFEF recipient Bradley Smith also attended the event. He’s currently a student at the University of British Columbia through the aid of a BFEF scholarship.
“As many applicants we keep having, that we can support, we’re going to welcome them and continue to help them,” Bautista said. “With my personal contributions and the ability to create more events to raise more funds, I think the possibilities are, not endless, but certainly not at capacity right now.
“We can keep growing as long as we have kids to help. I don’t want to just raise funds and have the money sitting there and not be able to help anybody. But we have some kids on deck for next year, so I have to get creative with some of the events and raise more funds.”