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For Better and Verse
Stephen Cannella
February 18, 2002
Miguel Batista is a budding star on the mound and a budding writer off it
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February 18, 2002

For Better And Verse

Miguel Batista is a budding star on the mound and a budding writer off it

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There are several things you might expect Arizona Diamondbacks righthander Miguel Batista to have been doing when teammate Erubiel Durazo smacked the series-winning home run in Game 5 of last year's National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. Spitting sunflower seeds for distance and accuracy with the rest of Arizona's relief corps, perhaps, or maybe stretching in anticipation of a late-inning call from manager Bob Brenly. Instead, during the fifth inning of the most important game of his career to that point, Batista was nestled in a corner of the visitors' bullpen at Turner Field, working on a poem commissioned by pitching coach Bob Welch. "It was about our team," Batista says. "About how far we'd come and how we'd been blessed since the beginning of the season."

That's not a typical request from a pitching coach ("Use your fastball and mix in the terza rima today!"), but Batista isn't a typical pitcher. First, there's his multifaceted role for the world champion Diamondbacks. Pitching for the sixth team in his seven-year big-league career, the 30-year-old Batista shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation last season, filling in where needed. Whereas most pitchers prefer to know exactly how they'll be used be-fore they arrive at the park, Batista flourished amid the uncertainty. His 11-8 record and 3.36 ERA, in 18 starts and 30 relief appearances, were career bests; the 11 wins nearly equaled his previous career total of 13.

Batista's versatility was a key to the Diamondbacks' march through the postseason. He threw a scoreless two thirds of an inning of relief in Game 2 of the Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and then started and won Game 3 of that series against the Cardinals with a superb six-inning, three-hit, two-run performance. He started Game 5 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium and pitched a gem: He held the Yankees scoreless for 7? innings and left the game with a 2-0 lead, only to see Arizona's bullpen blow the game in 12 innings. "I felt like I was David fighting against Goliath in that game," he says. "No one expected us to beat the Yankees, but for some reason I was very confident that day."

When he's not on the mound, Batista has more on his mind than trying to predict when his next outing will be. He has been writing poetry since he was a teenager, and he spent much of this off-season working on his first novel, a mystery about an adolescent serial killer with supernatural powers. The project draws on several of Batista's off-the-field interests: writing, law, religion and a love of suspense movies such as Seven and A Time to Kill. "I'm like the guy in Dream On," he says, referring to the popular HBO series of a few years ago about a man whose life mirrored the scripts of his favorite films. "I watch a lot of movies, and that's where I get a lot of ideas."

It's a strong bet that Batista was the only major leaguer last season whose locker housed a framed Einstein portrait and quote ("Imagination is more important than knowledge") and a biography of Milton. "If you're not talking about fantasy football or baseball or girls, most ballplayers don't have much to say," says Brenly. "Miguel has opinions on everything. He's extremely well read, extremely well spoken and a very thoughtful, caring human being."

A self-described "lone ranger" while growing up in San Pedro de Macor�s in the Dominican Republic, Batista began writing at age 12 to fill the void created by his lack of close friends. At first he simply doodled thoughts in a journal; by his mid-teens he was composing poems but keeping them to himself. He was also developing an eye-popping fastball, and despite his wildness and skinny build, the Montreal Expos signed him in 1988, two weeks after his 17th birthday. After two inauspicious seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Batista embarked on an eight-year odyssey through the systems of the Expos, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs.

During spring training with the Cubs in 1997, Batista's roommate, righthander Amaury Telemaco, stumbled upon a notebook full of verse that Batista had written in Spanish. Impressed, Telemaco encouraged Batista to keep writing and to let others read his work. The following year Batista submitted Do You Remember? a poem about a married couple reminiscing about their lives together, to a poetry website. The poem, his first in English, was posted online and in 1998 appeared in a published poetry collection.

In January 2001 he published a collection of verses in Spanish tided Sentimientos en Blanco y Negro (Feelings in Black and White). The request from Welch notwithstanding, Batista rarely writes about baseball. His preferred subjects are love, relationships and religion. "To me a poem is a moment in time," he says. "It could be about anything. It's a way of describing what I see and what I feel."

Until last season Batista was more accomplished as a writer than as a pitcher. After another tour with the Expos and a brief stint with the Kansas City Royals from 1998 to 2000—he went 13-19 in that three-season span—he hooked up with the Diamondbacks before the '01 season. Last spring one of his teammates, veteran righty Armando Reynoso, taught him a cut fastball that veers in on the hands of lefthanded hitters; Batista held lefties to a .218 average. He also benefited from sessions with Arizona aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, who pumped up his confidence and impressed upon him the importance of locating his 95-mph fastball. "There were a lot of little details about pitching that I didn't see until they explained them to me," Batista says.

By the end of the season Batista had a quality cutter and a sinker, which Welch helped him perfect, to go with his fastball, and he allowed a career-low 3.9 walks per nine innings. The Diamondbacks were pleased enough to sign him earlier this month to a two-year, $5.8 million contract, a deal that will go a long way toward financing another of Batista's dreams, attending law school. (He has been taking classes in the Dominican Republic toward an undergraduate degree.)

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