Tatis Jr. embraces villain role at Yankee Stadium

May 29th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

heard it all weekend.

He knew he would.

Playing his first games in New York City since he returned from his 80-game PED suspension, Tatis heard all manner of taunts and chants directed at him in right field. Tough place to be, standing directly in front of the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures.

I thought Tatis handled it well, taking it all in stride. At times he was playful. At times he ignored the chatter. At times he merely shrugged his shoulders or waved his hand.

“I just embrace it,” Tatis said Saturday after the second of his two home runs over the weekend. “There’s times you can give a little bit back to the fans. There’s times -- it depends on the game -- you just need to focus and lock it in. This game belongs to the fans. It’s just good to give a good show out there.”

Last summer, in the aftermath of his stunning suspension, Tatis was wholly remorseful. He apologized directly to his teammates and asked for their help. Then, speaking with the media, he apologized to the baseball world, saying explicitly, "I would like to start today just by saying how truly sorry I am … I have let so many people down." He vowed to earn back trust.

Since then, Tatis has done everything within his power to shift his focus forward. For all intents and purposes, he has been an excellent teammate. The Padres asked him to play right field, and he’s expertly taken to his new position. He also appears to be snapping out of a minor slump.

And, sure, Tatis probably irked a few Yankees fans with his demeanor over the weekend. But I’m not sure it’s Tatis' job to appear buttoned-up and remorseful every time he takes the field to play a game. How miserable would that be?

On Friday, Tatis playfully mimicked an orchestra conductor as the fans chanted at him during a pitching change. On Sunday, he turned and crossed his arms, staring directly into the heart of the bleacher creatures while they chanted back “Tatis sucks.”

“Look, he knows what he’s in store for, and he’s embraced it,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “No matter where it is, he realizes what he’s up against, and you do the best you can to have a little fun with it. I think there was some pretty good interaction out there between the fans and him.”

Obviously, not every player would handle the situation that way. Most would prefer to ignore those jeers. But if you’ve watched Tatis, you know that’s simply not who he is.

If, between every single pitch, Tatis has thousands of fans reminding him of a personal low point -- and, yes, that low point was 100-percent self-inflicted -- he is within his rights to handle it playfully. Tatis has never been one to idly stand by, and he certainly didn’t begrudge the fans for their actions. He acknowledged they’re well within their rights.

“The fans have many reasons to boo,” Tatis said. “And there’s a lot of them out there.”

Before he returned from suspension, I was very curious to see what approach Tatis would take to hostile road environments like this one. Now we know: He isn’t shying away from it.

“I grew up in this game, and I’ve seen everything,” Tatis said. “I know how fans are going to react. I know how to interact with them. Whatever is out there, you’ve got to totally embrace it. It’s part of the game.”