TORONTO — Toronto Blue Jays’ outfielder Jose Bautista went above and beyond his duty as a professional athlete player Friday night.
The right-handed slugger responded to the wishes of Fennimore’s Steve Lendosky, whose 9-year-old son Derek, was tragically killed in a UTV accident Sunday, Aug. 4.
Bautista received a tweet from the elder Lendosky last week, and after learning of the devastating news of Derek’s passing, the Blue Jays’ all-star dedicated Friday’s game against Oakland to the 9-year-old boy.
“I don’t know what to think,” Bautista told the Toronto Star prior to the game. “I get a lot of similar requests and I can’t get to all of them. But I did some follow up on this one, and when someone tells you they will bury their son in your jersey, it's tough.”
Bautista responded in heroic fashion going 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and a mammoth third-deck homer in the eighth inning of a 14–6 loss to the A’s.
Through Twitter, Lendosky approached Bautista through the sluggers’ popular @joeybats19 account on Wednesday.
“On Friday (Aug. 9) I will be burying my nine year old son,” the elder Lendosky wrote in the tweet to Bautista. “He will be wearing his Bautista jersey and taking a ball you gave him with him. You were his favorite player. He would have wanted to share this with you.”
The accident occurred two Sundays ago on a farm just outside of Fennimore. The elder Lendosky was driving a UTV that was trailing a mower last Sunday with his three children sitting behind him. Police reports said Derek stood up to pick a nut off a tree and fell backward under the mower.
Lendosky wasn’t looking for anything special from Bautista and didn’t even expect a response. He simply wanted to let the star know he was his son’s favorite player.
In fact when Lendosky walked into St. Peter Lutheran Church in Fennimore, Friday to attend his son’s funeral, he had no idea that Bautista had decided to dedicate that night’s game to Derek.
But Lendosky’s tweet not only prompted a Bautista response, it spurred a random act of kindness group thread on Facebook that produced various acts of kindness starting in Fennimore and surrounding communities, before spreading throughout the country.
The original tweet also led to a second Facebook page — headed up by 14-year-old Jacob Zintz and 15-year-old Kennedy Lee — dedicated to GameForDerek.
“He sent me a tweet, he said he was going to bury his son and that’s when I did some research into the story. I wouldn’t know what to say [if I talked to him],” an emotional Bautista told the Star.
Members of the Facebook group began reaching out en masse to Bautista via the hashtag “#JoseBautistaGameForDerek”
Bautista took up the cause, and tweeted his dedication: “Tonight’s game is for Derek #GameForDerek #DerekRIPMyFriend.”
Bautista also wore a hat with “RIP” written in while marker on the side of the cap.
“A lot of people [through social media] were tweeting to me to do it and I said to myself that it made sense,” Bautista said. “I went back and looked at his tweet and I guess I met the boy before, signed an autograph. So I’ve met the boy somewhere, and I’m guessing that they are in Wisconsin, so it might have been Minnesota or Milwaukee?”
When Bautista tweeted his game dedication to Derek, the boy’s father replied on Facebook: “He would be on cloud 9. I am sure he is looking down on us and smiling. You are too kind. What a wonderful gesture … Steve Lendosky, Aug. 9.”
Kansas City Royals pitcher Ervin Santana also saw the tweets and reached out to Lendosky on Saturday.
“We all feel your pain @iamlongball and are proud of what Jose @joeybats19 is doing for your family,” wrote Santana.
Ledosky responded, “@ErvinSantana_54 @JoeyBats19 I was just sending a message to my son’s favorite player. I asked for nothing in return. What Jose did was great.”