Until a mid-season trade to Toronto in 1999 sent his power numbers through the roof, Batista was best known for the shocking, wide-open batting stance he adopted prior to the 1998 season while playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. Bastista stands with both feet facing the pitcher’s mound, his left foot on the back corner of the batting box and his right foot virtually on the back line. “I see the ball better with both eyes facing the pitcher, particularly the breaking ball,” says Batista, who shifts to a more traditional stance as the pitcher makes his delivery. “It helps me to use more of the field. It’s almost like I’m a fan sitting in the stands, being able to see the pitch with both eyes.
Originally scouted and signed by fellow Dominican and Hall of Fame hurler Juan Marichal in 1991, Batista spent his first two years in the majors as a utility infielder with Oakland. Taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the November 1997 expansion draft, he earned regular playing time at second base after the All-Star Break and employed his sharp uppercut swing to launch 18 home runs in only 293 at-bats the next year.
Moved to shortstop in 1999, Batista was batting .257 with just five home runs in 44 games when the Diamondbacks sent him and right-hander John Frascatore to the Blue Jays for southpaw reliever Dan Plesac. Batista immediately took over at short for a Blue Jays club which had floundered since the loss of starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez to a season-ending shoulder injury several weeks before. But Toronto soon discovered that they had landed more than just a stopgap for Gonzalez, as Batista homered in his first game with his new club and never let up. In 98 games for the Blue Jays he slammed 26 home runs and drove in 79, helping keep the club’s wild-card hopes alive well into September. Between Arizona and Toronto he batted .277 with 31 home runs and 100 RBIs.
In 2000 Batista moved to third to accommodate the return of the more defensively gifted Gonzalez, but his bat continued to make the Diamondbacks look foolish for trading him. Though his free-swinging ways occasionally led to abysmal slumps (in 620 at-bats, he struck out 121 times and drew just 35 walks) Batista contended for the league home run crown the entire season. He finished with 41 round trippers — six short of AL champ Troy Glaus — and 114 RBIs.