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Braves’ diamonds in the rough: Evan Gattis

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The Legend of El Oso Blanco began to sprout on the DII baseball field. Let’s take a look back at the one-time Atlanta Braves’ catcher’s early days.

Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers

We started looking back on some Atlanta Braves players who got their beginnings lighting up the NCAA Division II baseball field with Ralph Garr. Today we turn our attention to a man that introduced himself to Major League Baseball in an onslaught of hard-hit baseballs.

Evan Gattis’ road to the MLB diamond is one that has been told many a time. A once-promising Texas high-school prospect who’s bouts with off-field depression and anxiety led to missing out on baseball and jobs as a valet, in a pizza place and as a ski lift operator.

That was before he found himself back at Texas-Permian Basin in Division II baseball.

Gattis was older — a 23-year-old to be precise — but he was a junior academically and sophomore on the baseball field. His step-brother Drew Kendrick was a pitcher for the UTPB Falcons. When Gattis hinted he wanted to get back to baseball, Kendrick gave him a call and brought him in.

It was a good move.

Sure, he was older, but Gattis delivered with a First-Team All-Heartland Conference campaign hitting .403 with 19 doubles and 12 home runs. When Gerald Turner of the Braves came for a visit, Gattis put on a show.

“Gerald [Turner] came to watch him hit BP one day,” Gattis’ UTPB head coach Brian Reinke told me in 2017. “Our park is big and the wind blows in every day from left field. Evan proceeded to hit 13 of 15 balls out of the park with wood. I knew then that he would be drafted that year. The rest was up to him.”

The Braves took Gattis in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft. His 2011 season in Rome was an absurd one, as he slashed .322/.386/.601 with 22 home runs and 24 doubles. The following season he made his way to Double-A and by 2013, he was ready to make his big league debut.

And what a debut it was.

“It could have gone way worse, couldn’t it have?,” Gattis asked with a laugh in a one-on-one we had after winning the 2017 World Series. “I was so fortunate.

“I was nervous, shaking during that game when I hit that home run. I remember coming back in the dugout and Reed Johnson being like, ‘well, that should make it a lot easier.’ I was playing to possibly get sent back down in a month whenever [Brian] McCann got off the disabled list and I was just trying to have fun and enjoy it. It was a life goal. It’s a lot of people’s life goals that don’t get to achieve it. Looking back, of course I was very happy and very proud, but I was very fortunate.”

The Legend of El Oso Blanco was born with a blast off future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. He exploded onto the scene posting an .875 OPS with six home runs in April and followed that up with a .317/.362/.683 slash line and six more home runs in May. Gattis took home the NL Rookie of the Month in both of his opening stanzas.

That Braves’ 2013 squad captured its first NL East title since 2005. The rookie finished fourth on the team in home runs, and hit a nice .357 in the postseason against a formidable Los Angeles Dodgers trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Though he wouldn’t stick at catcher, Gattis swung a big stick for the Braves in his followup campaign slugging 22 home runs and posting an .810 OPS in 2014. He would be dealt that winter to the Houston Astros in the trade that brought Mike Foltynewicz to Atlanta.

Gattis’ time was short in Atlanta, but it was no doubt memorable. He was a fan favorite with a cool nickname and some memorable blasts. And it all got its start on the DII baseball field.