“Here’s a guy that lived in a van for three years, I don’t think a baseball game is going to scare him.” –
Fredi Gonazalez, Braves Manager. Is there a better sports story in the past ten years than
Evan Gattis? For those who don’t know about Evan Gattis, the 26-year old former janitor, who for 4 years was on a personal journey before signing a $1,000 bonus to join the Braves organization, you need to get caught up because you are missing a once in a lifetime type story. Let’s go back about 10 years. In 2004, Evan was among the top high school players in the country; Major League scouts were blown away with his power and throwing arm. Gattis decided against being drafted to play pro ball out of high school and accepted a scholarship to Texas A&M…one problem, he never showed up on campus.
Due to a combination of his parent’s divorce and an extreme self-imposed pressure to excel at baseball, he started abusing alcohol. Gattis reflected ““I was terrified of being a failure.” He was quickly admitted to a recovery center in Texas and then spent time at a halfway house before trying once again at baseball at a Junior College. Again, his life took a turn for the worse as after playing half a season he gave up baseball and dropped out of school. Gattis’ next four years were filled with working odd jobs – car valet in Dallas, ski lift operator in Colorado, pizza cook in Colorado, housekeeper at a hostel in Taos and Arizona, machinery operator in Texas, golf cart attendant and a janitor in Texas. There may have been some other jobs sprinkled in there, but Gattis doesn’t remember, “I don’t know, I guess I was just trying to find myself.”
Gattis’ low point came during a few days in the summer of 2007. He was hospitalized due to depression and anger issues. He told USA Today Sports, “I was in a mental hospital. I couldn’t sleep for an entire week…all I could think about was killing myself. I wanted to kill myself for a long time.” Evan was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety six years ago and through therapy, time and medication he eventually discovered what he wanted out of life. After his “quest” he got to the end of the road and there was nothing left to search for…it was time to return to baseball. In 2010 Gattis attended the University of Texas-Permian Basin to return to the game he loved. How did it go? Despite not swinging a bat for 4 years he hit .403 with 11 homers.
Gattis was drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round of the draft that year. During his rookie level league he played well for the Danville Braves, but he failed to make the opening day roster of any of the Braves minor league teams in 2011, which was another hit to Gattis. He had great success in ’12 in the Class A Advanced League and was promoted to Class AA but with Brian McCann and another top catcher prospect in the system Gattis was shifted to left field and then went to the Venezuelan Winter League where he had incredible success and earned the nickname “El Oso Blanco,” Spanish for “the White Bear.” Gattis was invited to spring training in 2013 and after a .358 batting average the Braves added him to their opening day roster. When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told him he made the team, the emotion caused “The White Bear” to openly weep.
Let’s take a look at his first big league season…
- During his debut on April 4th he recorded his 1st hit, a home run off Roy Halladay. Not only did he hit a home run, but his father was on TV being interviewed during his son’s first at bat and sure enough, mid interview his son hits a home run….CHILLS.
- Gattis was named National League Rookie of the Month for April in which he batted .250 and led all rookies with 6 home runs, a .566 slugging percentage, 16 RBI and 43 total bases
- Gattis is clutch. Gattis has 3 home runs in 6 pinch hit at bats
- Gattis has hit 9 home runs, 7 of them to tie or put the Braves ahead, and 4 of them coming in the 8th inning or later!
- Currently Gattis is batting .254 with 9 home runs and 23 RBIs
Thinking about his journey Gattis humbly says, “When I look back, I’d probably do everything different. But I don’t regret any of it. There’s supposed to be a reason for everything, right?” Gattis is happy and enjoying his time in the big leagues. He has become a cult hero in Atlanta; his jersey is the hottest seller in the Braves gift shop. As he continues with his success it won’t be long until Gattis’ story catches fire across the country. As I am writing this story I turn on ESPN and what do I see? Sure enough a highlight of last night’s Braves game. The Braves are down 4-3 in the 9th inning with two outs…here comes Evan Gattis to the plate in a pinch hit situation. What happens? What do you think happens? Evan hits a pinch hit home run to tie the game to send the game to extra innings…the Braves went on to win the game in the 10th. This story is further evidence as to why I love sports. This is a tale of 2nd chances…a tale of resilience…a tale of persistence. How can you not root for a guy like this? Cheers to sports. Cheers to Evan Gattis. No matter where you are in your life, no matter how “low” you may be, you can get through it. Be thankful that you have today…maximize your today.