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Grateful Gattis homers in big league debut

ATLANTA -- When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez put Evan Gattis in the lineup for Wednesday night's game against the Phillies, he assumed the powerful rookie catcher would add to the magic of his journey by doing something special in his Major League debut.

So count Gonzalez among those who were not shocked when Gattis celebrated his debut by hitting the first home run of his career. The fourth-inning solo shot off Roy Halladay got knocked down by the wind, but still had enough to clear the left-center-field wall.

"It didn't surprise me one bit," said Gonzalez, who has been intrigued by Gattis' offensive potential dating back to the first time he saw him during last year's Spring Training.

Gattis was still brimming with joy as he stood at his locker after Wednesday night's 9-2 win over the Phillies. He had hit his first career home run off Halladay and had the pleasure of having many of his friends and family members in attendance.

"I'm glad I got that one out of the way," Gattis said. "I couldn't have planned it. I'm just excited and happy. I got a little emotional after the game when I got the lineup [card] and my home run [ball] back. It's just too cool."

The young man who caught Gattis' home run ball was wearing a Texas A&M hat. The irony was certainly not ignored by Gattis, who committed to play at A&M before he opted to avoid the possibility of testing positive for marijuana, a substance he mixed with alcohol in attempt to overcome depression.

Gattis' four-year journey away from baseball allowed him to enjoy stints as a ski lift operator, janitor and a cook. Once he decided to return to baseball in 2006, head coach Brian Reinke gave him an invitation to play alongside his stepbrother at the University of Texas Permian Basin.

Reinke was with Gattis' father, Jo, and 12 other friends and family members who traveled from Texas to share this week with Gattis.

"All the people that have helped me along the way, I can't thank them enough and I'm glad they got to come," Gattis said. "It's just too cool."

After taking batting practice on Wednesday, Gattis was reunited with Gerald Turner, the longtime scout who convinced the Braves to select the raw catcher in the 23rd round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

"When his name came up, I said, 'This is low risk with high rewards,'" Turner said. "We paid him $1,000 when he signed and now look where he is now."

Turner still remembers Gattis' reaction as he agreed to the $1,000 signing bonus while dining at Mia's, the famous Dallas restaurant where Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once hired Jimmy Johnson to serve as his head coach.

"When he signed his contract, he had tears coming out of his eyes," Turner said.

After Gattis began playing at UTPB, Reinke called Turner to tell him he might be interested in his 23-year-old power-hitting catcher. Tuner had not seen Gattis since he had ended his high school days in suburban Dallas.

"When I got there, I just couldn't believe it," Turner said. "He weighed about 265. Their ballpark is not easy to hit them out of. But he hit about 20 of them out that day during [batting practice]."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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