KISSIMMEE, Fla. — When Evan Gattis made Atlanta’s Opening-Day roster last season, the rookie slugger became one of the biggest stories for the Braves.
For Year 2, he wants the focus to be on his play.
Gattis is expected to serve as Atlanta’s primary catcher after Brian McCann signed a free-agent deal with the New York Yankees. Gattis hit .243 with 21 homers and 65 RBI in 2013, completing a winding road to the majors.
“I want as much playing time as I can get,” he said after a full-squad workout. “I want constant at-bats and I want to keep going every day. I want to play every day and I loved last season, but this year I want a little more. I am not taking everything for granted. Last year was nice but it’s a new year.”
What made Gattis so compelling last season was the journey he took to the pros. 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, prompting him to quit when he was only 19.
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.
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. Gattis 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.
It’s a story Gattis has recounted over and over, and knows he’ll have to tell again. But he’s focused on improving his batting average from last season and catching a revamped pitching staff.
“I know there are going to be adjustments to make,” Gattis said.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was impressed by Gattis’ work with the pitchers last season while he adjusted to the majors.
“The pitchers like working with him,” Gonzalez said. “He’s adjusting to the leadership position, but he never had any trouble working with the veteran pitchers last season. Maybe they were afraid of him.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Gattis is physically intimidating, but in the locker room, he’s just one of the guys trying to blend in as the starting catcher. He’ll talk about the past, but his eyes are more on the future.