Tough times behind him, Gattis grateful for MLB career
New Astros slugger battled depression, substance abuse before turning life around
HOUSTON -- Evan Gattis talks about his life struggles candidly, which is clearly a signal they're behind him and that he is more eager about what the future holds. The future now lies with the Astros, who traded for the former Braves slugger last month with hopes he'd post career numbers at Minute Maid Park.
The fact Gattis has formed the solid beginnings of a Major League career is a testament to his resolve and a credit to those who've supported him. There was depression, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide -- all of which, looking back, have made Gattis stronger.
"To be honest with you, I don't think about it too much," Gattis said. "I know it's changed me as a person. I just learned some life lessons and took some time off and figured some stuff out about myself. It definitely was a bad time. There's been rough times. I don't know how to quantify it. It's definitely behind me."
Gattis, 28, brings some tantalizing power potential to the Astros, who are hoping to team him with George Springer, Chris Carter and fellow newcomer Colby Rasmus to bring thunder to the lineup. Gattis hit 43 homers in 213 games with the Braves the past two seasons, battling back and knee injuries along the way.
A new home equals a new start for Gattis, who knows how fortunate he is to be playing in the Major Leagues.
"It's exciting, it's awesome," he said. "Sometimes I feel like I have to pinch myself. It's unbelievable. I love it and I think I appreciate it more than somebody who expected it. That was never really there for me. For years, I didn't think about baseball."
Gattis appeared destined for success when he signed a letter of intent to play for Texas A&M out of Dallas Bishop Lynch High School in 2004. That was after he turned down an offer to play for defending national champion Rice because he wanted to be a catcher and not play first base.
His fear of not succeeding and potentially failing a drug test ultimately led him to pass on the opportunity of playing at A&M. He wound up in drug rehab for a month and then to Prescott, Ariz., for three months of outpatient treatment. He was eventually diagnosed with depression.
A fear of failure on the baseball diamond led to alcohol and marijuana abuse.
"I never wanted to be the guy who wasted his talent away on this or that because of pot or alcohol or something like that," he said. "I didn't want to be the guy that messed up, so I was afraid of that. That being said, I never let myself fail."
But Gattis said not showing up at A&M and not wanting to fail on the field was failure in its worst form.
"I was a scared kid that smoked too much pot, a 17-year-old," he said. "I never really gave myself a chance to fail, so really the big thing was coming back and playing and kind of go face these fears and kind of march back into it. At least if I fail, I'll be a success just to go do it instead of chickening out or just being afraid."
Gattis returned to Dallas in 2006 and spent some time as both a cook and a valet. When he visited his sister in Colorado, he fell in love with the environment and became a ski-lift operator and a housekeeper at a hostel. He was out of the game for four years.
He constantly sought advice from spiritual advisers and ultimately opted to drive to Santa Cruz, Calif., to interact with one of these advisers.
"I met a guy named John Wheeler … and for whatever reason, that was the guy that helped me the most," he said.
Gattis rediscovered his passion for baseball, and wound up joining his stepbrother at University of Texas-Permian Basin. Despite his time away from the game, Gattis was selected in the 23rd round by the Braves in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Soon, tales of Gattis' mammoth homers in extended Spring Training were becoming the stuff of legend. He was promoted to Class A Rome during the 2011 season and hit 22 home runs with a South Atlantic League-best .322 batting average in 88 games. In 2012, he combined to hit .305 with 18 home runs while primarily playing for Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi.
Following the 2012 season, Gattis hit .303 with 16 home runs and a .595 slugging percentage in 53 games during the Venezuelan Winter League. In the process, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound catcher became a fan favorite and gained the nickname "El Oso Blanco," which translates to "The White Bear."
The story seems almost too good to be true, but it's not. Gattis was there. He remembers it all.
"I get goose bumps telling the story, but why not?" he said. "I was really excited. I was driven, I was motivated. It's hard to talk about, but it was awesome."