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Gattis eager to build on success from rookie year

Proud of unique journey to bigs, Braves catcher ready to assume greater role

ATLANTA -- As Evan Gattis progressed through his successful rookie season, he quieted some of his critics and quickly realized there was widespread interest in his unique journey, which has allowed him to realize the lifestyle of a valet, ski lift operator and Major League Baseball player.

This winter has given Gattis a chance to reflect on all of these experiences and gain a better understanding of why many fans have marveled at all that he has accomplished since walking away from baseball for four years.

But with Spring Training less than a month away, Gattis is looking forward to the chance to prove himself as the Braves' primary catcher -- and in the process, add a few more memorable chapters to his already incredible story.

"These past few months made me step back and look at just how happy I was to even get drafted and then reach my ultimate goal," Gattis said. "Reaching the big leagues was a success for me. Now it's just time to go from there and have more good years."

After spending most of the past few months at his suburban Dallas home, Gattis flew to Atlanta on Monday night to spend two days as the featured guest on the Braves Country Caravan, a two-week event that kicked off with an anti-bullying rally at Ridgeview Middle Charter School on Tuesday morning.

Gattis will be part of the Caravan when it travels to Greenville, S.C., on Tuesday. He will then return to Texas to make his final preparations for the start of Spring Training.

"I'm looking forward to having a fresh start and just getting after it again," Gattis said. "[Spring Training] can't get here soon enough. I'm just looking forward to having another good winning team."

Gattis proved to be a key contributor as the Braves claimed last year's National League East title. He showed he was capable of handling the primary catching duties while Brian McCann was sidelined during the regular season's first six weeks. Then once McCann returned, Gattis was clutch off the bench and continued to display the power potential that led Atlanta to use him as its starting left fielder throughout most of September and during the postseason.

The 21 home runs Gattis belted in just 382 plate appearances ranked second among all Major League rookies. But as the broad-shouldered catcher reflected on his first big league season, he was most satisfied with the strides he made as a left fielder -- a position he had not played on a regular basis before the second half of the 2012 season with Double-A Mississippi.

"The thing I'm most proud of is playing the outfield," Gattis said. "The results will be whatever they were. But I'm glad I was at least able to do the job and get some experience."

While there might come a time when Gattis is once again asked to spend some time as an outfielder, he enters this season with the expectation that he will primarily be used behind the plate. His maturation as a catcher will once again be aided by the presence of veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird, who has learned a thing or two about the position during his 11 big league seasons.

With Laird's guidance last year, Gattis gained a better understanding of the catching responsibilities that extend beyond what transpires during the course of the game. He proved more than willing to spend time analyzing scouting reports and gaining a feel for how pitchers would want to attack certain hitters or situations.

"Baseball is an experience game," Gattis said. "You've got tools and you've got things that make you a valuable piece on the field. But I really think the more time you spend doing something and the more mistakes you make, the better you will get."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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