Miguel Batista enters 23rd pro season
Right-hander is in his third stint with the Naitonals
Miguel Batista hasn't really pitched forever and for every team. It just seems that way.
At age 39, Batista is positioned this season in the Nationals bullpen, poised to be long man, short man, setup man, whatever is necessary. In his 23rd professional season, he has been a starter who relieves and a reliever who starts.
"I will do whatever it takes to help my team win," he said. "It's a physical blessing to be able to start or relieve. It's not only mindset. It's physical, too. In 1997, I had a pitching coach who said, `You're a long reliever who starts the first inning.' That made sense to me.
"I'm a utility right-handed pitcher," he said. "I can pitch in every situation every day or every five days. Every good team needs someone like that, kind of like Ramiro Mendoza was with the Yankees a few years ago. A lot of pitchers try. Not many can do it."
His versatility makes Batista a valuable pitcher to have around. He came into this season five wins short of 100 in a career split down the middle between starting and relieving. He is in his third stint with the Nationals and their baseball ancestors, the Montreal Expos. There have been stopovers with seven other Major League organizations, an appreciation of the skills he brings to his job.
Batista's Major League odyssey began in 1992 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was not quite ready for prime time.
"I was 21, the youngest player in the big leagues at a time when the average age was 30-35," he said. "It was April 11. One game. I pitched two innings against the Phillies. I gave up a home run to Ruben Amaro Jr. I also struck him out. When I came off, I shook [manager] Jim Leyland's hand. I didn't know who he was.''
Amaro is now the general manager of the Phillies. Leyland now manages the Tigers. And Batista is still pitching.
After that cameo appearance with the Pirates, Batista next surfaced in the Majors with Florida in 1996. It was the beginning of a vagabond tour of the big leagues with stops with the Chicago Cubs, Expos, Royals, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, D-backs again, Mariners and now the Nationals. If his team needed a reliever, Batista saved 31 games for the Blue Jays in 2005. If his team needed a starter, he won a combined 27 games the next two years with Arizona and Seattle.
He has watched baseball evolve from a thinking man's game to a power game, from a sport where crafty pitchers could out think hitters to a sport of modern flame throwers who dare batters to hit 95-mph fastballs.
"That's why I admire guys like Jamie Moyer, still pitching at 47, and Tim Wakefield," Batista said. "Those guys can pitch until they're 60. Wakefield's the only knuckleballer. Moyer, I take my hat off to him. He can't overpower hitters. What does he throw? Eighty-one miles per hour? He'd better not make mistakes. He's not allowed to. And he doesn't. The guy's amazing.
"When I came up the average fastball was 88 or 90 miles per hour. Now the game has been pushed away from that, pushed to power. It's a power game from the plate to the mound to the outfield. Today's pitchers are bigger and stronger. But I don't know if they're smarter.''
Batista spends his time away from the mound as a writer. He has published poetry and fiction and is now working on his second crime novel titled, "DNA 18." He's about halfway through his current project and finds the task challenging.
"That's because I am not writing about what I do for a living," he said. "I need to do a lot of research to make it believable.
"I do it to kill time, so that time doesn't kill me."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.