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

Feb. 18, 2002
Feb. 18, 2002

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Feb. 18, 2002

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

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."

This is an article from the Feb. 18, 2002 issue Original Layout

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 before 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 2/3 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
Macoris 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
titled 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.)

He got a jump start on his legal education this winter when,
while researching his novel, he interviewed several lawyers and
law-enforcement agents in Arizona and the Dominican. He has also
picked the brains of several priests and rabbis to develop themes
for the book. "Writing a novel is different from poetry," he
says. "You have to build an atmosphere in your mind and then
describe it. It takes a lot of work and time."

Much as his pitching career has.

COLOR PHOTO: AP
"To me a poem is a moment in time, a way of describing what I
feel."
Batista's locker holds an Einstein portrait and a biography of
Milton.