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Why Major League star José Bautista became owner of Las Vegas Lights FC

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 01/16/24, 1:01PM EST


Drive to win, passion for business will see six-time All-Star lead club into new era this year

Six-time Major League Baseball All-Star and new Las Vegas Lights FC owner José Bautista is ready to bring changes - and success - to the club. | Photo courtesy Emily Sullivan / United Soccer League

It’s not hard to understand how new Las Vegas Lights FC owner José Bautista got where he is in life.

At the center of everything he’s set out to accomplish, he’s been playing for keeps.

“I love to win,” said Bautista. “I think that's what best describes me. It’s been one of my biggest drivers in my whole life. My passion and my relentless, relentless pursuit of winning is what makes me who I am.”

It resulted in a career in Major League Baseball where he was a six-time All-Star with the Toronto Blue Jays, finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting in the American League four times, won three Silver Slugger awards, and led to him being honored in the Blue Jays’ Circle of Excellence last summer.

For many people, that could have been enough. Bautista’s post-playing career has been filled with time with his family and four daughters – “my girls are my pride and joy,” he said. “They keep me plenty busy with all their after-school activities and the events that they have to attend. Just being a part of their life is something that I take very seriously, and I pour my heart and soul into. Being a dad is my number one job.”

He's also remained active, a hard habit to drop when you’ve made your living staying in peak condition for almost two decades in college and professional baseball.

But Bautista’s path has also had another longtime curiosity. During his professional career, he completed his studies as a business major, and has moved into the business world over the past five years since the conclusion of his MLB career.

That passion is what brought him to become the principal owner of Lights FC, where he wants to build the club into a success both on and off the field.

“There are a lot of things that attracted me to Las Vegas and the Lights,” said Bautista. “There's a lot of tailwinds in the soccer world in North America and in the USL. The Lights already have a great foundation. Now it’s time to build upon that.  I’m hoping to put a great team together that’s going to help achieve those goals. I want to build a great relationship with the community and make something that the community Las Vegas is really proud of.

“With all the stuff that’s happening in North America in the next few years with Copa America, the Women's World Cup, the Men's World Cup, the Olympics, It makes me even more excited about the potential that we can all achieve.”

Bautista is best known for his baseball career, but his passion for soccer came at an early age in his native Dominican Republic. While organized soccer was scarce, Bautista and his friends would play pick-up games with the challenge of the game and the standard of top-level players leaving a big impression.

“My passion for the game comes from seeing how difficult the game is to be played and how fit you have to be,” said Bautista. “It’s something where I could never get to that level of fitness. Seeing what these guys do day in and day out on the pitch, I can't help but to be amazed.”

As youngsters, Bautista and his friends were also devoted followers on television, with the Bautista family’s Catalonian roots making him a longtime FC Barcelona supporter. As he progressed in the baseball ranks, there remained a soft spot for his other sport. Around batting practice, pick-up soccer games became part of warm-ups for Bautista and his teammates as they sought to break the everyday monotony of the MLB regular season.

As Bautista’s star rose after being voted to his first MLB All-Star Game in 2010, so did opportunities to rub elbows with soccer royalty. Most notable of all, a trip to Barcelona that saw him visit the club’s famed La Masia academy and get to meet among others Lionel Messi – for Bautista, the game’s Greatest of All-Time.

“Not many people get that chance,” said Bautista of their meeting. “I’m happy that I did. He was a great person, it was definitely a great memory.”

It’s a long way from La Masia to Las Vegas, but as he takes the reins of Lights FC there is a determination in Bautista to build a club that can represent the city and its community. With two months until the new season kicks off, there’s only so much that can be done in short order, but the priority is to build bridges that can rally Las Vegas behind its club.

“Building a great relationship with the community and having a positive impact is extremely important for me as a person first and then for the Lights as a business,” said Bautista. “Bringing that entertainment factor, that way to unplug from everyday life in how people can rally around the common theme of rooting for a professional team is something that I’m hoping to bring to the table.

“I want everybody in Las Vegas to be able to identify with the team and be proud and happy to come to our stadium and enjoy a great ballgame. That's the ultimate key to success.”

After six seasons of ups and downs, false dawns, and challenges – including a campaign last year in which the side won only three games while seeming capable of more – there is seemingly only one way for Lights FC to move from here – up.

Bautista is eager to get to work.

“The thing that I want the fans to know about me and what I'm going to try to do with the franchise is that I’m a winner,” said Bautista. “I don’t like losing, but I love to win more, so I’m hoping to make that a reflection of the organization as well.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of things that we can be doing better, and I’m looking forward to hearing from them and implementing those things into how we're going to run this business moving forward.”

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