Thursday’s game for the Atlanta Braves was full of plays that have made up the team’s season almost a month into the game: timely hits, a quality outing from the pitching staff, and balls flying out of the ballpark to help the Braves secure another victory, this one over the Pittsburgh Pirates by the final score of 6-4.
Along with home runs from the Uptons and Chris Johnson came a blast in the 8th inning from catcher Evan Gattis, who stepped up from the bench to hit a go-ahead two run blast in his first career pinch hit, which would ultimately secure Atlanta’s thirteenth win in fifteen games so far this season.
While one can argue that the credit for the Braves’ hot start to the season lies in the hands—or bat—of Justin Upton or in the excellent play of the team’s bullpen, you cannot discount how important Gattis has been to this team in the absence of perennial All-Star Brian McCann. The statistics for Gattis in twelve games are ridiculous, as the Dallas, Texas native currently holds a .279 batting average with 5 homeruns and 12 RBIs, placing him fifth, second, and second on the team in these categories, respectively. As if the fact that Gattis is just adjusting to playing in the Majors was not impressive enough, take one look at his past and you have the makings of a story that is too good to be true.
Even if you have already heard the story of Evan Gattis, it is one that definitely does not get old. A talented ballplayer in Forney, Texas, Gattis seemed set on attending Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship in 2004 when his reliance on alcohol and drugs caught up with him. Instead of heading to College Station and becoming a hero on the diamond, Gattis found himself in rehab, which eventually led him to Prescott Arizona, where he went through three months of outpatient therapy in order to try and overcome his addictions.
Gattis then tried to revive his baseball career at Seminole State College in Oklahoma later that year and eventually redshirted his freshman year, but a knee injury the following season left him on the sidelines and in a complacent state, which led to him deciding to quit the team. Now looking to just support himself, Gattis moved to Boulder, Colorado and looked to settle down, opting to take on jobs at a local pizza parlor as well as a ski resort. After close to seven months in Boulder, Gattis moved back to Dallas to take a janitorial position for Datamatics Global Services, where he had the chance to work with his brother.
Despite what some may think about the prospects of working as a janitor, it turned out to be exactly what Gattis needed, as he met a spiritual advisor that convinced him to move west to Taos, New Mexico, where he lived in a peaceful hostel and found work at another ski resort. Gattis was not done moving at this point, deciding after three months to head to California and “chill out”, as he told the AJC’s David O’Brien. It was during this time that Gattis got a familiar itch that had been a huge part of his life: not for alcohol or marijuana, but for baseball.
Four years removed from his last game, Gattis was able to convince University of Texas-Permian Basin head coach Brian Reinke that he was worth a roster spot, and promptly proved it by finishing the season with a .403 batting average along with 11 homeruns. The Braves then decided to take Gattis in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft, which meant that he would have a long road ahead of him if he would ever reach the Majors.
Instead of being discouraged by his late round selection status, Gattis instead chose to do all he could with what he had, but after a year of rookie ball in Danville his future still seemed cloudy. Upon the recommendation of Joe Breeden, a Braves minor league catching instructor, Gattis lost close to thirty pounds, which undoubtedly played a role in him being able to hit .322 for the Class-A Rome team, good enough for the South Atlantic League batting title. Coming off an impressive 2011 season in Rome, Gattis continued working his way up, spending time the Braves’ Gulf Coast team along with the Class-A-Advanced team in Lynchburg and the AA team in Mississippi. The end of the regular season in the minors did not mean the end of baseball for Gattis, as he then opted to play in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .303 with 16 dingers and earned the nickname “El Oso Blanco”, Spanish for “The White Bear”. Now turning heads around the organization, the Braves invited Gattis to spring training for the 2013, where he batted .358. Impressed by his play, Atlanta decided to offer Gattis a spot on the Major League team’s roster, and the rest, they say, is history.
The success of Evan Gattis is as inspiring as they come in sports (think Josh Hamilton without the high draft pick side of the story), and his continued success could ultimately lead to a major change in the Braves organization. While it is certainly far too early to declare Gattis as a proven MLB player, it is fairly possible that Gattis continues to impress upon the return of McCann, who is twenty-nine years old and coming off of what was undoubtedly his worst season in his fairly impressive career. Although McCann will probably play the bulk of 2013 upon his return—which is set to come approximately in the next 7-10 days—with Gattis playing in his place from time to time, the offseason could see the departure of the catcher who many consider the current face of the Braves due to his status as a free agent. It is definitely too early to make predictions on where Gattis and McCann will find themselves come 2014; it is, however, not too early to state that fans of baseball across the country have taken notice of Gattis, who is living proof that a detour in life does not necessarily mean you will not reach your intended path.
Is Evan Gattis a flash in the pan or the real deal? Leave a comment and let us know how you think the rest of the season will play out for “El Oso Blanco”