Gattis ready to start for Atlanta Braves

sports@macon.comMarch 4, 2014 

Braves Spring Baseball

Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (2) swings at a pitch with Evan Gattis (24) catching during a spring training baseball workout, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla.

ALEX BRANDON — AP

Brian McCann was the catcher for the Atlanta Braves for a long time. He first came up in 2005 and almost immediately took over as the starter. For eight-and-a-half seasons, McCann was a fabric of the Atlanta franchise.

But now McCann is playing for New York, wearing the pinstripes of the Yankees.

Taking over for a player who went to six All-Star games is not going to be easy. But for Evan Gattis, this must be nothing.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the story by now. Gattis was out of baseball for a while. He traveled the west searching for his purpose in life. It was an incredible journey that eventually led him back to the game, and now, several years after living for a while in a hostel, he’s the starting catcher for the Braves.

He admits that sounds “a little weird.”

“You know when you work hard for a goal, you kind of expect to get there,” he explained last week at spring training. “It’s just here. It doesn’t feel any different. It’s awesome. I love it. I love my job. That part doesn’t really change ... just the title.”

Gattis doesn’t sound like a player feeling the pressure of assuming a starting role on a big league club. The experience he got last year prepared him for this. It was a stunning rookie season, as Gattis hit 21 home runs and drove in 65 runs.

That’s exactly what he’ll be asked to do again this year, but Gattis wants to prove a bit more.

“I think I’m a better hitter than I showed last year, as far as average,” Gattis said. “I think I lacked in approach at times last year. I can get better at pitch selection, putting balls in play more often. Hard line drives. I want to have a consistent, solid approach the entire year in every at bat.”

Count his backup, Gerald Laird, as one of his biggest supporters.

“I think he’s ready,” Laird said. “He took some huge strides last year. We’ve seen glimpses of what his bat can do. I think it overshadowed his catching ability. I think his catching is just as good as his offense. He works hard to get better and better. I think he’s going to take off defensively. I think he has a chance to be an all-around great All-Star catcher.”

Gattis is already a fan favorite, as so many people have marveled at how a young man that worked in a pizza parlor, as a janitor, a valet and even a ski lift operator is now one of the most important players on the Atlanta team. Gattis admitted so many people have come up and said how he’s been an inspiration, which is something he never could have dreamed about when he was going through his unusual track to the big leagues.

“I did not envision that,” he admitted. “It’s really cool to hear that however small or big you are making some impact in people’s life. I just did not see that. I did not play baseball to inspire people. That’s not why I play baseball, but it’s awesome. It’s unbelievable that could be a byproduct of the story.”

That story has Gattis even more prepared for what’s ahead of him as the new starting catcher. But his strategy is very mature for someone that is taking over for not only a fan favorite, but a hometown kid that did very well for a long time.

“Nobody is going to replace McCann,” Gattis said. “I’m not going to replace McCann. It’s going to be Evan. It’s going to be me.”

And no one would have it any other way. This is Gattis’ time, and from all indications he’s ready for a challenge that shouldn’t be any tougher than what he already has been through in his very interesting life.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com

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