Tatis: 'I'm really looking forward to redeeming myself'

February 4th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Honestly, says, he has no idea what to expect from the 2023 baseball season. In San Diego, at least, he's been wholly embraced again. Droves of fans clad in No. 23 jerseys lined the streets well before the gates opened for Padres FanFest on Saturday. They took pictures with Tatis, asked for autographs, chanted his name. In his home clubhouse, the same sentiment holds true.

Tatis is well and truly back in the fold. He was a full participant in last week's minicamp. He toured the city with his teammates on Friday. He sat and laughed with them on stage at Gallagher Square on Sunday.

But at some point in the next week or so, Tatis will report to Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., and the road will get tougher.

Tatis still must serve the 20 remaining games of his suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance last summer. After that he will navigate the challenge of playing baseball for the first time in more than 18 months -- with three surgeries behind him. On top of that, the road crowds that once adored him won't be nearly so friendly.

"It's going to be one of the most emotional years, I feel like, in my career," said Tatis at Padres FanFest, his second public appearance since his suspension and the first since last August. "I'm ready to embrace that."

Baseball-wise, 2022 was a lost year for Tatis. He missed the first four months of the season while recovering from a fractured wrist. Then, on the verge of his return, he was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for Clostebol. That ruled him out for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.

In the meantime, the Padres stormed to their first National League Championship Series appearance in 24 years. Tatis could only watch from afar.

"That gave me a lot of fuel, trust me," Tatis said. "I don't want to put too much words into it. I more just want to prove myself in the field, just get back to the field with my boys. I definitely miss that fire, just being in the jungle with them."

Shortly after his suspension last season, Tatis returned to the Padres' clubhouse to offer an apology to his teammates, an apology that was received quite well, according to those in attendance. After that he took a contrite tone as he apologized to fans, noting, "It's going to be a very long process to gain everybody's trust."

Then in a departure from his usual larger-than-life persona, Tatis exited the spotlight altogether. The Padres were in the middle of their playoff push. Tatis, meanwhile, opted for a couple more surgeries -- an additional wrist repair and an operation to address his past shoulder issues.

He spent a sizeable chunk of the offseason in San Diego, far more than he had in previous winters. He's been welcomed back into the fold by his teammates, the same teammates who had initially noted their disappointment in Tatis following his suspension.

"He's taking that step of trying to move past this, put it behind him," said right-hander . "It's not going to be easy. It's something that he's going to continue to face for definitely this season and probably a couple years to come.

"But one of the things we talked about very early on was: At some point you're going to have to forgive yourself and move past it, try to show everybody who you really are and what's in there."

Regarding his shoulder and wrist, Tatis says he's "as close to 100 percent as I've been in the last two years." That's notable, because even during the 2021 season, he played through multiple subluxations of his left shoulder. Toward the end of the year, the Padres actively sought measures to keep Tatis as healthy as possible. They curtailed his aggressive baserunning. They moved him from shortstop to the outfield.

This offseason, of course, San Diego welcomed into the fold as their new starting shortstop. That leaves Tatis largely without a position, though it's believed he'll transition to a full-time outfield role, with the infield mostly settled.

Tatis is currently taking part in all baseball activities -- batting practice, grounders, fly balls. Asked what positions he's been working at this winter, he said, coyly, "Outfield, infield." Where does he expect to play?

"I've got to talk to my manager," Tatis said. "But I'm open. This is a great team that we have. It's a great roster that the front office put together. I feel like everyone is on the same page, and that page is winning. So whatever it takes, we're going to do it."

Manager Bob Melvin noted that no final decision has been made on Tatis’ position for 2023, but he offered a hint at where he might start the year.

"We have him in the infield and outfield working out right now," Melvin said. "You know, being inactive for basically a year and a half, shoulder surgery, wrist surgery -- maybe the outfield takes a little off his plate to begin with, might be good for him. But he’s open for anything."

Tatis expects to be a full participant in camp, though it’s entirely possible the Padres will ease him slowly into action following those surgeries. He can take part in Spring Training games, but once the season begins, he will be out until at least April 20, when he will, at long last, don a Padres uniform and play a baseball game.

That’ll be 565 days -- and a lifetime’s worth of unwanted headlines, many of them self-inflicted -- since the last time he did so.

"I’ve missed it a lot," Tatis said. "I mean, I missed a year of it. I'm not looking forward to missing any more. It just feels great to be out there again. ... I’m just looking forward. I've really learned from what happened to me in the last year. I'm really looking forward to redeeming myself."