His story started with a bang, literally, homering off the Phillie’s Roy Halladay in his first major league at-bat. Talk about a dream come true; crushing a Doc Halladay pitch over the outfield wall in your first at-bat. Whoa.
The home run ball was caught by a young man wearing a Texas A&M shirt. The irony was not lost on Evan Gattis.
From a drug addicted college drop-out (No wait, that’s not right, he can’t drop out if he never showed up to A&M to fulfill his part of a baseball scholarship can he?) to a cook, janitor, ski-lift operator and God knows what else in between, Gattis has lived a lifetime in 26 years.
When the rookie steps to the plate at Turner Field in Atlanta, chants of “El Oso Blanco” echo through the stadium. He earned the nickname, which translates to “The White Bear”, while obliterating baseballs in the Venezuelan winter league. Sometimes, if you look hard enough, you can find bear-shaped hats sprinkled throughout the stands. He’s a fan favorite and marketing department’s dream.
Can you say cha-ching? The Braves can.
El Oso batted .281 with 12 home runs and 32 RBI through June 1st. Outstanding numbers for a rookie not many thought would make the club out of spring training. He saw a lot of playing time in April as Brian McCann, the Braves staple behind home plate, was recovering from shoulder surgery. When McCann returned from the DL in May, Gattis was relegated to backup status, but continued to flourish in a part-time role as a utility outfielder and backup catcher.
Gattis has had his fair share of big moments as he leads the league with four pinch-hit home runs. For a while the guy had a penchant for the big moment, bombarding the field with game-winning shots.
Then, as is always the case with young hitters, pitchers adjusted while Gattis did not. The catcher has a low crouching stance making it hard to make contact against pitches up and inside. Unfortunately, he also has trouble laying off said pitches. Pitchers have worked this zone hard since June. Gattis has hit just .188 with three homers and 15 RBIs in June, July and August combined. His batting average stands at just .139 since August 1st.
Not good for a guy expected to replace McCann if the Braves can’t re-sign him in the offseason.
Plate discipline would definitely help at this point. Laying off pitches you’ve always been able to crush is easier said than done, but Gattis has to do it, or else he may not stick with any big league club much longer.
His story is much too good to end now. If El Oso’s life were a movie, hopefully this is the climactic point where he bust out of the three month slump with a barrage of dingers over the left field seats, shattering a scoreboard light or two.
Gattis has the talent to succeed, he has shown that. Now, he must prove he can make the necessary adjustments as pitchers have done to him. He has an innovative hitting coach in Greg Walker and he’s been through worse . . . much, much worse.
But for the Braves, with mounting injuries and a host of hungry playoffs team waiting for them come October, the sooner the better.