I feel sorry for people who aren’t sports fans because they don’t get to enjoy special reality show moments like the one I saw on television last night when the Atlanta Braves rookie catcher Evan Gattis dug in against Philadelphia Phillies superstar pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay.
Gattis, an almost 27-year-old first year player with a personal story so dramatic you’d swear it was fiction, not only got his first major league hit, a home run, in his first game, but he also had his dad “call” the shot. Tom Hart, a reporter for Fox Sports South in Atlanta, sat in the stands surrounded by thirteen members of Evan Gattis’ family and friends who traveled from Oklahoma and Texas. Jo Gattis, who coached his son through a little league and later high school career that saw Evan offered a baseball scholarship to Texas A&M, was telling Hart how his troubled son had given up the game for 4 years when he yelled “there he goes!” Evan Gattis hit the ball over the left field wall. That was apropos as Evan Gattis’ story is out of left field, also known as the Texas desert.
Evan Gattis grew up a phenom in Forney, Texas. Forney’s known as “the antique capital of the world” which fits Gattis. He seemed like a boy from decades earlier in time, a Paul Bunyan but living in the 21st century. Bigger and stronger than almost everyone he knew, Gattis thrilled Forney locals with his sports exploits including mammoth home runs for three different high schools. Kids at each school didn’t even think Gattis was a real student, that he was simply flown in for games. Texas A&M was waiting. But Gattis was real, alright, and inside his burley build was scared young man. He medicated his crippling anxiety with copious amounts of alcohol and mariquana. His tight-knit family was so concerned for him they sent Evan to rehab, twice. Around the in and out-patient stays, he enrolled at Seminole State College, a junior college in Oklahoma, then hurt his knee. In 2006, not yet 20 years old, Evan Gattis quit the game he loved and that everyone said would make him a rich and famous.
As with most legends, there’s redemption. Gattis took a while to find his. For four years he wandered the tame west. His sister lived in Boulder, Colorado, so he went there. He sold his truck and worked in nondescript jobs like a pizza parlor and ski-lift operator at a resort. There was a stint as a janitor with his brother. All the while, he told his dad, Jo, and anything else who asked, that he was done with that baseball. Then Evan Gattis got really weird, in a good way.
That job he did with his brother, cleaning toilets and washing windows? It was at a place in Dallas, Texas called Datamatics Global Services. It answered the question we all ask, where do spirtual advisors work their day jobs? Gattis met one and followed him to Taos, New Mexico. Gattis lived in a hostel and worked for another ski resort. Forget settling down, because then he moved to Wyoming, where he worked at Yellowstone.He then traveled through California. If you’re not in the entertainment business in Cali then you’re hanging with spiritual guides. Evan chilled with several trying to figure out if he should pursue the suspended adolescence of professional baseball or, well, something else. Obviously one of his new age pals was a hardball fan, because Evan Gattis ended up at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, which sounds like a fake place, but it’s real, in Odessa. After hitting. 403 with 11 home runs (that’s good), he was drafted in the 23rd round by the Atlanta Braves and given a thousand bucks. Story over right? Nope.
For three seasons in the minor and spanish winter leagues, Gattis picked up the nickname El Oso Blanco, aka The White Bear. His statistics were staggering and his exploits were buzzed about on and offline. By March of 2013, Gattis was thrilling spring training baseball fans in Florida with long home runs, a gregarious personality and the real life notion of making the Braves team. With starting catcher Brian McCann on the disabled list, Gattis made the club and in his second game, last night, in Atlanta, with poppa Jo watching, he laid claim to a trivia question – he was one of seven Atlanta Braves to hit a homer in their first game for their first hit in the big leagues. And his dad called it on television.
From amateur athletic washout to rehab to wandering lost soul to the major leagues, the legend of El Oso Blanco grows. I hope Evan Gattis, the man behind the legend, does too.