Braves slugger Gattis has a story. Man, does he ever
7:32 pm February 29, 2012, by David O'Brien LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It’s a rite of spring training: pitchers dominate hitters in early “live” batting practice, because pitchers have been throwing for weeks while hitters have been facing pedestrian 60-70 mph fastballs from coaches.
After taking a long and winding path to big-league camp, Evan Gattis said he was so happy he cried the first day of spring training. (Jason Getz photo/AJC).
So imagine the surprise when Braves left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, who led major league relievers with a 0.98 ERA, began pitching to Evan Gattis last week and the minor league catcher jacked one after another to the far reaches of the ballpark and beyond.
“Normally guys are late on your heater this time of year, but he was turning on it, pulling it,” O’Flaherty said. “He hit a deep foul, took a couple deep to left field and I was like, who is this guy” A lot of guys come in taking pitches and feeling their way; he swung at everything I threw and just crushed it.”
Pitchers typically tell hitters what pitch is coming next in these sessions. O’Flaherty, juices now flowing, at one point told Gattis he was throwing a four-seamer. He threw a cutter instead. “And he crushed it anyway,” O’Flaherty said, shaking his head.
Gattis is a 6-foot-3, 235-pound, right-handed-hitter — “a beast, a man-child,” veteran catcher David Ross said — who hit .322 with 22 homers in just 88 games last season at Class-A Rome.
He is a non-roster invitee who’s created a buzz in Braves camp, both for his batting-practice exploits — including homers off O’Flaherty, closer Craig Kimbrel and top prospect Julio Teheran — and his highly unusual background.
Did we mention he is 25 and was out of baseball for nearly four years?
Who is this guy? Gattis himself is just starting to figure that out. Journey began in Texas
Eight years ago, James Evan Gattis was a burly power hitter coming out of high school in Forney, Texas. He signed with Texas A&M, but never made it to College Station.
Instead he went to drug rehab for 30 days. Then a halfway house for three months. After a brief baseball career at an Oklahoma junior college, he dropped out and tried to tune in or turn on to something, anything that might give him some clarity.
His life began to resemble a Jack Kerouac novel mixed with new age spiritualism wherever he could find it. He traveled the western United States, stopping for a few months here and there, working jobs ranging from ski-lift operator to janitor.
“I knew there was something more,” Gattis said. “I just felt like there was this thing called happiness, and I wanted it. And the more you look for it, the more it seems further away.”
He told some Braves players his story recently. They were enthralled. The guy has lived a little bit.
“He,” Ross, “has lived a lotta bit.” A career with many detours
Let’s back up. To 2004, when Gattis was set to play at A&M before abruptly deciding not to. He was 17. Gattis explained two years ago that had feared he might go to A&M and fail as a ballplayer, and his self-worth would be shattered.
He said this week there was another reason he didn’t go.
“I was terrified – I didn’t want to fail a drug test,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a mess-up, you know? I didn’t want to fail at that stage and have people say, ‘Here’s this kid with all this talent and he wasted it; what a shame’ and all that.”
Instead of going to college, his mother took him to drug rehab.
“I don’t know if that was the best choice, in hindsight,” he said. “But then again…”
Gattis said was diagnosed with clinical depression at one point and used several different medications. He also did plenty of self-medicating. Booze and marijuana.
He doesn’t know if he actually had depression, but said there were times he thought he’d end up dead if things didn’t change.
After 30 days of in-patient rehab, he went to Prescott, Ariz., for three months of out-patient care. While there he got a call from Seminole State (Okla.) baseball coach Eric Myers, asking if he was interested in playing.
“He said, ‘If you want to, it’d be a good spot for you.’” Gattis said. “He kind of found people like me. He was a good molder of people. He died since then, had a brain tumor. I wish he was still around, so I could thank him.”
Gattis redshirted as a freshman and played a half-season at Seminole, then left. Dropped out. Said he’d been sober for about 18 months before something happened.
“I was so overwhelmed with everything that I ended up quitting,” he said. “It surprised the hell out of me that [Myers] said, ‘Well, I see you as a friend and there’s no hard feelings. Enjoy whatever you’re going to do. Enjoy college.’ At that time I planned on going back to college and finishing my degree in psychology or something.”
He didn’t make it back to college. Going out West
The next couple of years were a blur. Mom buys Gattis plane ticket to visit sister in Boulder, Colo. Falls in love with the place, sells his truck and moves there. Works at a pizza joint, gets a job as a lift operator at Eldora Mountain, hitch-hikes to work.
Seven months later, he got an itch again. Returned to Texas along with his brother, who’d been working at a Utah ski resort. The Gattis boys took jobs as janitors in Dallas at Datamatic – “we found it on Craig’s List” – then moved on to become cart-boys at a golf course.
“Right about this time I started finding these spiritual teachers or whatever on YouTube,” Gattis says, “and I thought, these mother******s know what I’m talking about. They’re speaking my language, whatever they’re saying.”
Gattis met with one such advisor when she came through Dallas. She said something that convinced him to drop everything and follow her to Taos, N.M. He told his parents a few days before Christmas, then left.
He lived in a hostel at Taos and worked at another ski resort there, but after three months Gattis was ready to move on.
“Going to California, going to see some different people,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of them from the West Coast — the California guru game.”
The starter failed on his 1995 Dodge pickup, so Gattis said he push-started it and drove to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara without once turning off the engine, filling up with gas while idling. From there he went to Santa Cruz, Calif., where he ran into a famous spiritualist he’d wanted to talk with about life. Gattis asked him, what do I need to do?
“It was kind of a letdown, but it was like, ‘OK, cool, I don’t have anything to do. I don’t have to find anything.’ He basically said, chill out.”
Teammates and coaches say Gattis is a tireless worker who wants to get better. (Jason Getz photo/AJC)
A day or two later, Gattis had another epiphany. He wanted to play baseball again.
He was in San Francisco at the time. He said he waited four hours for two cars to move that were parked behind him on a steep street, so he could roll his truck into an alley, where he gave a six-pack of beer to a homeless person to help him push-start it.
Gattis called his dad and said he was coming home. He called his stepbrother, Drew Kendrick, a pitcher at the University of Texas-Permian Basin. The coach there remembered Gattis from high school, said there was a spot for him. Back to baseball
Gattis, who hadn’t played since 2006, took a few months to shake rust off his swing. He hit .403 with 11 homers in his only season at UT-PB. Some teams were wary of his background, but the Braves drafted him in the 23rd round in 2010.
He weighed about 270 pounds at rookie-league Danville in 2010, where he hit .288 with four homers in 60 games. The following spring training, Gattis failed to win an opening day roster spot with any Braves minor league affiliate.
“When he came to camp that first year in instructional league he ended up hurting his knee,” said Joe Breeden, Braves minor league catching instructor. “But before he got hurt he asked me, ‘What should I do?’ I said the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to get in shape. You need to lose some weight, 25-30 pounds at least.
“And he came back in that next spring and he was in great shape. Out of spring he didn’t make the [Rome] club and he was wearing it out down here in extended [spring training], really swinging it very well, hitting balls out to right-center, everywhere.”
Gattis was added to the Rome roster in May and punished A-ball pitching, winning the South Atlantic League batting title while posting a .386 on-base percentage and whopping .601 slugging percentage. He drove in 71 and homered 22 times in 338 at-bats.
Gattis still needs to work on his footwork, but his throws from behind the plate have improved significantly and he's learning to call games. (Jason Getz photo/AJC)
He still needs work defensively, but he’s got a strong arm and tireless work ethic, and Breeden said he’s extremely receptive to instruction.
“He works his butt off,” Breeden said. “You see him he’s in there every morning in the weight room, not just lifting but stretching and flexibility. He needs more flexibility to be able to move the way he needs to move. Losing the weight has allowed him to move…. To me he’s improved the most with his arm, just the accuracy and being able to have true carry all the time. It’s getting better and better.’
Gattis will move up to either high-A or Double-A this season — whichever of those levels the Braves don’t send top young catching prospect Christhian Bethancourt.
Even though he’s 25 and hasn’t played above A-ball, the Braves now consider Gattis a legit prospect.
“He’s got such strength, and a good swing,” assistant general manager Bruce Manno said. “Defensively he’s gotten better behind the plate. He just needs work. His arm’s good enough, it’s just a matter of — with a lot of guys — you work on the feet, the footwork. Coming out quicker, that kind of stuff. But he’s doing that.”
“He’s a little older, but with guys like that it really doesn’t matter. He started later.”
When he’s in the batting cage there’s a distinctive thwack!
“It’s a different sound off his bat,” Manno said.
He’s got plenty of new fans who’ll be following his progress this year.
“He has some serious power,” Ross said. “Kind of rare to see a young guy come in here and make that big an impression… He sat down and told us all his story the other day. He’s a good guy, man. He’s an interesting guy.
“He seems to have his head on straight, and he works hard. Those are the kind of stories that everybody loves. You like the guy that had troubles in life and done some different things. Everybody likes that story. Even us players — you like the guy who’s worked his tail off and things have paid off.”
Gattis said baseball once seemed pressure-filled and grueling. Not anymore. The only thing that’s overwhelmed him recently is happiness.
“I was crying the other day,” he said. “First day here, just like that. It seems like it’s been just like that, four years just flying by….
“I think it might have seemed like a job, because it is a lot of work. But now I feel like I can work harder than some people because I legitimately want to and I enjoy it. I enjoy working hard, you know what I mean? I want to get better.
“I want to see what next year brings, and simple things like how strong am I pound for pound? Technique and all that stuff is going to come, and it comes because we work on it every day. You’re surrounded by instruction, and it’s fun to me now to work hard. It’s fun to try to make yourself better.”
Does he feel like he’s getting closer to fulfilling a dream or reaching goals?
“Absolutely,” he said. “Now I’m trying to play forever. So we’ll see how that goes. Crazy, huh?”
There was just one more question: Did he ever find what he was looking for?
“I didn’t find anything,” he said, smiling. “But I don’t have to look anymore.”
Dirty, great story. wish him all the best and hope he makes it to big leagues. everyone in AA or above have great talent; difference is who has their heads on straight and want it more are in big leagues.
Evan Gattis likely will start behind the plate Wednesday night against the Phillies.
By Steve Hummer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The script — incomplete as the screenplay of Evan Gattis’ life is at the moment — might begin with a back-porch conversation between father and son. Baseball movies all are supposed to involve father and son.
Jo Gattis, a regular Jo who works in the purchasing department of a Texas box-making company, is hearing from his big strong 19-year-old that he is never going to play again.
Jo had known his son was unhappy, that the knee injury he suffered while away at an Oklahoma junior college had only added to the weariness he felt. Still, hearing it put so bluntly, with the finality of a eulogy, “was like getting hit in the head with a brick,” Jo remembered.
Braves' rookie 'a cult hero' with incredible road to the majors
Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports11:43 p.m. EDT April 29, 2013
DENVER -- Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis sits back in front of his locker and shuts his eyes as he considers divulging one of the darkest, most intimate secrets of his life.
When he opens them again, words trickle out of his mouth, bringing back the anguish and torment of three days in the summer of 2007 that he says nearly ended his life. RECAP: Strasburg, Nationals still have no answer for Braves
"I was in a mental hospital," he tells USA TODAY Sports. "I couldn't sleep for an entire week, and I knew something was wrong with me. So I got admitted. I was so depressed, all I could think about was killing myself.
"I wanted to kill myself for a long time."
The rookie sensation is a 26-year-old former janitor, who, over four years, meandered through life before signing for a $1,000 bonus. Gattis was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety six years ago and, through medication, therapy and time, eventually discovered what he wanted out of life.
"I remember him telling his life story to three of us in the weight room in spring training," Braves bullpen catcher Alan Butts says, "and by the time he was done, 20 guys stopped what they were doing to listen. We didn't know what to say. Finally, I said, 'Dude, that's unbelievable.'
"Now, everywhere we go, you see other teams stop what they're doing to watch him take BP and say, 'Who is this kid?'"
Gattis, 6-4, 235 pounds, who had played 49 games higher than Class A and none above Class AA, openly wept when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told him at the end of spring training that he made the team. BOX SCORE: Braves 3, Nationals 2
Gattis was supposed to be a fill-in while six-time All-Star catcher Brian McCann recovers from shoulder surgery. But Gattis homered four times in his first eight major league games, leads all National League rookies in homers (six), RBI (14) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) (.847) and, Gonzalez says, should stick with the club even when McCann returns in the next 10 days.
Gattis' jersey has become the hottest seller in the Braves' gift shops, team officials say, and they have built their marketing campaign around Gattis for a home series that began Monday against the Washington Nationals: "The Nats are coming to town. Time to show some #Gattitude."
"And to think, this guy wasn't even in our plans in spring training," general manager Frank Wren says.
Then again, how could anyone plan on him in baseball when he had no plans in life until four years ago?
"Crazy, huh?" Gattis says.
*** TUMULTUOUS ROAD
In 2004, Gattis was among the most prized high school players in the country, playing on a Dallas-area traveling team called the Dallas Tigers with the likes of future Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers; traveling All-Star teams with center fielder Austin Jackson of the Detroit Tigers; and a Junior Olympics team with Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals, Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds and Justin Upton of the Braves.
"He had tools you just don't see," says Gerald Turner, 70, the Dallas-based scout who followed Gattis and says his power and throwing arm ranked near the top of the scouting scale. "He might be the strongest human being I've ever shook hands with."
Gattis projected to be selected no later than the eighth round of the 2004 draft but indicated he would rather attend college. He had a scholarship offer with defending NCAA champion Rice to play first base. But he wanted to catch and instead accepted a scholarship to Texas A&M.
"And then dropped off the face of the earth," Turner says.
Gattis says he started abusing alcohol and marijuana during his senior year of high school. He sank into a deep hole, torn by his parents' divorce, his father says, and, his mother says, self-imposed pressure to excel at the game he loved.
Gattis never showed up at Texas A&M. Instead, he was admitted to Sundown Ranch Recovery Center, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Canton, Texas, then spent three months at a halfway house.
He tried college again at Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma but, after redshirting as a freshman, played half a season and gave up on baseball and dropped out of school.
Gattis says he spent the next four years working as a car valet in Dallas; a ski lift operator at the Eldora Mountain Resort in Colorado and Taos, N.M; a pizza cook at Nick-N-Willy's in Boulder, Colo.; a housekeeper at the Abominable Snowmansion hostel in Taos, and another in Flagstaff, Ariz.; a machinery operator at Kimbrell's Kustom Machine Shop in Garland, Texas; a golf cart attendant at the Firewheel Golf Course in Garland and a janitor for Jan-Pro Cleaning Systems in Plano, Texas.
There might have been other jobs, but he can't keep track.
"I don't know," Gattis says, "I guess I was just trying to find myself."
He would occasionally call his parents, whose 10-year marriage ended when Gattis was 8, to let them know he was OK. He would check in with his half-sisters, half-brothers and stepbrothers. He would crash at friends' houses, then disappear.
"Months would go by when I wouldn't hear from him," says his mother, Melynda Gattis, 50, an assistant escrow officer at a Dallas law firm. "But I wasn't really worried about him. I knew he'd be OK. I just wanted him to be happy.
"I just never thought he'd find that happiness playing baseball."
It was baseball, she says, that played an instrumental role in her son's depression. Gattis was always bigger and stronger than the other kids, whose mothers refused to let them play catch with him because he threw too hard. But baseball was his escape. He didn't have to reflect on his parents' divorce. He didn't have to answer questions why he moved from his mom's house to his dad's house at 12 with another new family.
Yet the better he became in baseball, the more he played, the greater the expectations and the more anxiety and fear he felt.
"I was terrified," Gattis softly says, "of being a failure."
Jo Gattis, his father, blames the divorce as much as anything. He grew up in a broken home, too, and suffered some of the same symptoms of depression, which came to mind when his son was hospitalized the three summer days in 2007 in Boulder and received medication for depression and anxiety.
"I drove up there, and he was in the psychiatric ward. He looked bad," says Jo Gattis, 51, a purchasing agent for a Dallas packaging company. "I talked to the doctors, and I was relieved when they said he didn't have drug problems. It was anger and depression issues. He had a lot of anger and anxiety toward me and his mom.
"They didn't think he would be a threat to himself, or anyone else, so they let him come home with me.
"I just wanted him to be happy, but never did I think he'd play baseball again. Never. ... It was like he missed out on life growing up, so he went on that spiritual quest — and when he got to the end of the road, and there was nothing more to look for, he turned back to baseball."
*** BACK ON THE DIAMOND
In 2010, Gattis, whose favorite player growing up was Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, joined his stepbrother, Drew Kendrick, at the University of Texas-Permian Basin. He had not swung a bat in four years but hit .403 with 11 homers. His coach, Brian Reinke, called his scouting friend, Turner, to come take a look.
"He put on a power display that day that I'll never forget," Turner says. "The wind was blowing in, and he still hit 15 to 20 homers out.
"When we got to the draft room (in 2010) in Atlanta, I told them his story, told them not to worry about his age and said, 'This is one of the guys we have to take.'"
Gattis, who was drafted in the 23rd round, softly smiles at the memories, wondering if perhaps it was ordained that the potholes and barriers were necessary to find his path to success.
"When I look back," Gattis says, "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 says he has been drug-free but will drink the occasional beer. He says he's also no longer on medication or undergoing therapy, his chilling thoughts of suicide in the past.
"It was a long road," Gattis says, "and a lot of twists and turns. But I can say I have never been happier in my whole life."
*** SUPPORT SYSTEM
Gattis, who had not returned to the Denver area since his hospitalization, looked up in the stands at Coors Field last week as the Braves played the Rockies and couldn't believe what he saw: three guys in polar bear suits, another in a sombrero and leather vest.
Spencer Phillips, Chase Harrell and Ray Richardson were the bears, Chris Landin clad in the sombrero. Four of Gattis' best friends from childhood were there to pay tribute to Gattis and a nickname he picked up during winter ball in Venezuela: El Oso Blanco.
A Venezuelan cabbie bestowed that moniker — "The White Bear" — as Gattis was hitting 16 homers in 53 games with Aguilas del Zulia.
The friends sat in Section 131, screaming and hollering with Gattis' mom and two half-sisters, Vanessa Mize and Valerie Lynch, while getting bewildered stares from the Coors Field crowd.
Says Richardson, a law school student: "This was the greatest day of my life. I'm serious. I've never had a greater day since I was born."
The quartet never gave up on Gattis. They knew he would come back. Maybe not as a ballplayer, but at least as the guy who wore a kilt to school for laughs or climbed 100-foot power standards, laughing when the police and firetrucks came racing out.
"He always did what he wanted to do," Phillips says.
*** 'CULT HERO'
Gattis is earning more money than he ever dreamed — the major league minimum of $490,000 — but his only ride is a 1995 Dodge pickup with more than 200,000 miles that sits in his dad's driveway. He lives rent free at his dad's friend's house in Alpharetta, Ga., and gets rides to the stadium from teammates or his girlfriend, Kim Waters.
No one takes more advantage of the clubhouse food than Gattis. When he ordered dinner last week with his buddies at the Denver Diner, the waitress stared at him in disbelief: Two flank steaks, two chicken-fried steaks, four eggs, four orders of hash browns, five pieces of toast, three pieces of French toast. There wasn't a crumb left on his plate.
"He was mad that we paid for it," Phillips says, "but we told him, 'Hey, you only make the minimum.'"
Three weeks ago, the Braves invited Turner to watch Gattis' first game in Atlanta, where the legend began.
Gattis hit his first home run — while his father conducted a live interview on Braves TV — and hasn't stopped, homering in every NL ballpark he has played this month.
"He's a cult hero now," Turner says, "I'll be 71 next week, and I feel like I had a newborn child."
Gattis, too, feels a sense of rebirth.
"It's crazy, but I just feel so relaxed now," Gattis says. "I'm having a blast. It was so tough to persevere, and that depression really beat me down, but I've overcome all of that.
"Hopefully I can be an inspiration to kids going through the same thing. There are a lot of kids out there depressed. You read about teenage suicides and the things kids go through, and it's so sad.
"Maybe, when they know my story, they'll see there's a way out.
"I'm proof of that."
Gattis to change positions for now; McCann to change teams after year
The Atlanta Braves have one of the most powerful catching tandems in years now that six-time All-Star Brian McCann is back to join hot rookie Evan Gattis, but they'll also have a bit of a challenge for now to fit all their good hitters into the lineup.
The Braves believe they can get Gattis enough at-bats to make it worthwhile by employing Gattis some in left field (where he is tonight), some at catcher and maybe some at first base for the next five months, before he presumably takes over as the starting catcher next year. The Braves won't say it aloud, but the handwriting is on the wall for a change in 2014, with McCann making $12 million this year and ready to become a free agent after the year.
McCann's presence is clearly a plus, as he has a career .826 OPS and adds to the team's powerful array of hitters. Furthermore, Gattis' versatility should help manager Fredi Gonzalez make it work, or so the Braves believe, if they can get him three to four starts a week between left field, first base and catcher. Gattis played mostly left field in winter ball, which enables Gonzalez to use him there and switch early MVP candidate Justin Upton to right field, at least while Jason Heyward is out..
Heyward is on the disabled list after appendix surgery, which loosens things up for Gattis at the moment. But even after Heyward returns, the Braves believe they can find room for Gattis to play one of three positions. Heyward was off to an excruciatingly slow start at .121.
The Braves also like the idea of having third catcher Gerald Laird, which enables them to use wither Gattis or McCann as a pinch hitter in certain situations.
McCann's return comes right on time, less than seven months after right shoulder surgery. He was hitting .423 with four home runs at Class-A Gwinnett.
Having two big-hitting catchers will be a nice luxury for the Braves for five months. But Atlanta, which last winter picked up McCann's $12-million 2013 option, has kept its payroll in the mid-$90-millions for several years, so allowing McCann to leave via free agency appears to be a fait accompli now that Gattis is emerging as a hitting star at the minimum salary. Gattis has seven home runs and 18 RBI already.
McCann, only 29, should be a star of the free agent market this coming winter, what with his five silver slugger awards. The Braves should be OK, though, with Gattis seemingly ready to take over in 2014.
But for now, though, Gattis will be the man on the move.
I could handle that... I almost went over the edge when I had to quit running my Mens league here with many old former college and minor league players.. we played every fall... September thru December when It starts getting cold here...
ATLANTA -- As Evan Gattis was rounding the bases, soaking up the cheers from his first grand slam, he noticed the song blaring triumphantly from the speakers at Turner Field.
The theme from "The Natural."
Did he get the correlation?
"There goes Roy Hobbs," Gattis said, chuckling at the thought of being compared to the mythical figure played on screen by Robert Redford.
"Yeah, right," he added, sarcastically.
But, much like Hobbs, this is the tale of someone who turned away from the game he loved, only to find his way back. Then, like a script straight out of Hollywood, he makes the team and suddenly becomes an almost mythical figure - or, as Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez put it, a "legend."
The 26-year-old rookie catcher has already hit 10 homers, which was tied for fifth in the National League heading into Thursday's games. He's second on the team with 27 RBIs. Most impressively, he keeps coming through in clutch situations. Four of his homers have been in the eighth inning or later, tying the game or putting the Braves ahead.
Not bad, considering Gattis gave up on baseball as a college sophomore.
It took nearly four years before he decided to give the game another shot.
Boy, is he taking advantage of his second chance.
Last weekend, with Atlanta trailing the Dodgers 1-0 in the eighth, he came off the bench to hit a two-run homer. On Tuesday, with the Braves down by a run and down to their final out, Gattis hit a tying homer against Minnesota, allowing the Braves to pull out an extra-inning win. The next day against the Twins, getting what has become a rarer start at catcher, Gattis swung away on a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded and hit a towering, opposite-field drive that just cleared the wall next to the right-field pole.
"Gattis is a monster," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire marveled. "That's impressive. It looked like a left-hander hit that ball. He's a strong young man. You get a ball up to him, he's going to do that to you. Or down and in (the pitch from Perkins). We saw that one, too."
What makes Gattis even more compelling is how he got here. After high school, there were bouts with drugs and alcohol, not to mention plenty of dark days where the thought of killing himself seemed like a good way out. The fear of failing at baseball proved overwhelming, leading him to quit when he was only 19.
After that, he worked a series of menial jobs - from valet to janitor to cart boy at a golf course - and struggled to uncover a deeper meaning to life, hoping that would help him deal with his demons. He became a wanderer, traveling through the western United States. He lived out of his vehicle and listened intently to the words of various spiritual advisers.
"It took some time," he said. "I was desperate."
Finally, something clicked. The quest was over. It was time to get back to what he knew best - baseball.
His stepbrother was playing at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. The coach remembered Gattis from high school. He joined the team and became one of the top players in the Heartland Conference, showing enough power and potential to be a late-round pick by the Braves.
He spent the rest of that summer in the Appalachian League, but wore down late in the season, admittedly not quite in good enough shape to handle the long grind. The next spring, he was still a member of the Braves organization, but there wasn't a spot for him on any of their minor-league teams. He spent a month at extended spring training before there was an opening at Class A Rome. He went on the claim the league batting title, earning a trip to Turner Field for a ceremony honoring the organization's top minor leaguers.
That's when it first struck Gattis that he might have a chance to make it to the big leagues, something that had never really occurred to him, even when he was a hotshot coming out of high school and earned a scholarship to Texas A&M.
"I didn't know anyone at the time who went to the big leagues. I had never seen it done before. That was something that was far off, for special people," Gattis recalled. "Then, I won that award. I was like the player of the year for Rome. I came here in a suit and everything. I walked around this clubhouse. I saw everybody. I saw some people I knew on their way up.
"That," he added, "is when it became more reality for me. I became more hungry, more driven."
Gattis split time in 2012 between Lynchburg, an advanced Class A team, and the Double-A team in Mississippi. Then, he become something of a cult hero in the Venezuelan Winter League, hitting 16 homers in 53 games and earning the nickname "El Oso Blanco" - the White Bear. He was invited to spring training as a non-roster player, but given only a slim chance to actually make the team.
He hit .358 in the spring to earn a spot on the team as a backup catcher, albeit with starter Brian McCann on the disabled list, still recovering from shoulder surgery. Gattis homered off Philadelphia's Roy Halladay in the second at-bat of his career. A few days later, he homered off Washington's Stephen Strasburg. At the end of April, he was named NL rookie of the month.
"He has no fear up there," Braves pitcher Kris Medlen said. "I mean, what does he have to fear? He's been through a lot. That only helps him out."
Gattis has been more of a part-time player in May, now that McCann has returned to the lineup and two other regulars - first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Jason Heyward - are back after spending time on the DL. The Braves have gotten more creative in how they use Gattis, mostly as a pinch-hitter with occasional starts at catcher, first base and left field. He's shown a knack for coming off the bench, hitting three pinch-hit homers already.
Gattis has no complaints about taking on a lesser role and his expectations haven't changed even after all that's happened in such a short time.
"No, not really," Gattis replied. "I want to go to the World Series. Other than that, I don't know. I'm not expecting much of anything. I just want to play baseball."
This is the story of El Oso Blanco, the man who literally went from cleaning toilet seats to hitting grand slams in order to make a living.
This little gem has been making its way around the blogosphere the past couple days. If you haven't heard the true story of Evan Gattis' rise to fame, this is your chance to do so.
ATLANTA -- Evan Gattis has made it.
He has made the major leagues and the Atlanta Braves.
But his road to the Braves stretched more than 100,000 miles. It featured stops in numerous states, jobs as a janitor and mechanic, and a long-term battle with depression. GALLERY Gattis through the years PHOTOS Gattis home run gallery
What Gattis saw on that road cannot compare to what he overcame.
"You could have all the money in the world," Gattis told 11Alive's Matt Pearl in a sit-down interview last weekend. "But what good is it without you there to spend it? What's water if you're not thirsty?"
Gattis was raised in the suburbs of Dallas, and initially he had no interest in baseball. "I cried the first day I got signed up for baseball, believe it or not," Gattis recalls. "I was in the backyard, chasing snakes and planting carrots."
Yes, as a rug rat, Gattis was a bug rat. He soon gravitated to baseball, and those around him quickly realized his potential. TELLING THE STORY The search for Evan Gattis MORE Gattis fun facts
"I guess at 10 (years old), we were playing on 200-foot fences," said Tommy Hernandez, head coach of the Dallas Tigers traveling team on which Gattis played. "He'd clear that easily."
Jo Gattis, Evan's father, had another anecdote: "I had parents saying, 'Your son throws the ball too hard! Tell him not to throw the ball so hard.' I said, 'You need to teach your son how to catch!'"
A hot prospect out of high school, Gattis committed to play college ball at Texas A&M. But he didn't go. Instead, he went to rehab for marijuana.
Looking back, neither Gattis nor his father believe drugs were the real issue.
"The fear of failing, that's what got him," said Jo Gattis. "He thought, 'I don't want to go down there and fail a drug test.'"
Said Evan Gattis, "I was still convinced that something was wrong with me, that something wasn't right."
Gattis emerged from rehab and gave baseball another shot at Seminole State College in Oklahoma. He got hurt, never played, and finally snapped.
"I was sitting in a classroom," he remembers, "and I just started crying. I was just like, 'This is not what I want my life to be like.' So I packed up my bags and got in the car, like, 'I'm done.'"
From there, Gattis went to great lengths to figure out what was causing his depression. He took odd jobs as a golf cart operator and machine shop worker. He worked at a ski resort in Colorado and in a restaurant at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. He sought spiritual advisors and followed one to New Mexico.
"It wasn't fun for me," Gattis said. "It was survival. It was like, 'Something's wrong, and I know it.'"
For the most part, those close to Gattis chose not to intervene, offering support but allowing the young man to figure things out on his own.
The one time his father tried to chat with him about it, the conversation did not go well.
"I decided to have that talk on the porch," Jo Gattis said. "I said, 'You're selling yourself short. You're a good baseball player.' And then he looked and said, 'I am never playing baseball again.'"
In his interview with Matt Pearl, Gattis addressed his recent revelation to USA Today that, during that time, he dealt with constant thoughts about killing himself. MUST WATCH VIDEO: -Full interview with Evan Gattis: Part 1 -Full interview with Evan Gattis: Part 2 -Evan Gattis pranks his college baseball coach -Evan Gattis and Braves scout both cry when he signed contract
"That's kind of how it was for me for a little while," he said. "Life was heavy. I didn't want to die - I don't think anybody really does, deep down inside. But I was in some pain, you know?"
Eventually, Gattis says, he realized he did not have to try so hard to search for a solution; he simply had to be. Once he discovered that, he re-found his focus and passion for baseball.
Gattis came to Odessa, Tex. to play for the University of Texas-Permian Basin Falcons.
"He became the center of our team," said UTPB head coach Brian Reinke. "He became the guy that everybody rallied around, everybody looked up to."
Gattis' talent had not gone anywhere; the slugger led Permian Basin in batting and hit three times as many homers as anyone else on the team.
Off the strength of that one season, Gattis got drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 23rd round. He refers to that moment today as "a point of completion."
Gerald Turner is the Braves' scout who gave Gattis his contract to sign. Recalls Turner, "We filled out all the paperwork and signed the contract. He got up out of the chair and reached out his arm to shake my hand.
"And he had tears coming down both sides of his eyes."
Since then, Gattis has continued to improve. He spent two years working his way up the minor-league ranks; now in the majors, he has hit 10 home runs and was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April.
He says he has become the player he is today in large part because of his time away from the game.
"Looking back, do I regret it?" Gattis mused. "No, not even a little bit."
And of his future in baseball? Gattis says he'd like to remain in the game for a long time.
After his playing days after over, he says, "I'll retire and become the organist."
By Mark Bradley
He has played only 37 big-league games, and already it's getting tough to find something new to say about Evan Gattis. Toward that end, his manager came to my aid. "I'll tell you a story," Fredi Gonzalez said Wednesday, after the folk hero had hoisted his first career grand slam against Minnesota, and Gonzalez's anecdote became the lead of today's AJC print column. The whole thing is available on myajc.com, and I won't recreate it in full here. I will, however, offer the crux of a Gonzalez-Gattis conversation that occurred late in spring training. The manager had sought to tell Gattis, who was on the brink of making the Atlanta Braves' 25-man roster, to relax. Whereupon Gattis said, "Do you want to win?"
Whereupon Gonzalez said he did. Whereupon Gattis said: "If you care about winning, you need me on this team."
For all the labels that have attached themselves to the 26-year-old rookie -- he's a Great Story, a Folk Hero, a Legend -- we can add: Prophet. He has played 37 games and driven in 27 runs. Four of his 10 home runs have provided either the tying or go-ahead runs in the eighth inning or later. This team leads the National League East by 4 1/2 games for many reasons, but Gattis is no worse than Reason 1A behind Justin Upton. He's a a Great Story, a Folk Hero, a Legend. He's also a man of his word.