The power—you've surely heard of it by now, the legend growing with every home run, a dozen and counting. There was the shot the burly Braves catcher hit in his major league debut, on April 3, a towering fly off Phillies righthander and two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. Two weeks later Gattis tomahawked a 96-mph, shoulder-high fastball from Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg for his fourth of the season. Then there was number 6: a 438-foot blast at Coors Field on a 23º afternoon in April, a missile that according to hittrackeronline.com left Gattis's bat at 112.1 mph, the second-hardest-hit ball in Colorado this season. There was the grand slam, number 10, in a blowout win over the Twins last month, and the dramatic clouts Gattis has hit in high-leverage situations. Three of his home runs have tied the game or put his team ahead in the eighth or ninth inning.
He can club a baseball very, very far, but Gattis has the power do more: The 26-year-old rookie can also warp a fan's sense of belief. His story strains credulity: After graduating from high school, he turned down a scholarship to Texas A&M and swore off the game; underwent treatment for drug abuse and depression; embarked on a four-year odyssey around the country in search of spiritual understanding before he was led back to baseball; was drafted in the 23rd round in 2010; then made the Braves' Opening Day roster a year after starting the '12 season in high A ball. Once you've accepted that tale as real, even the most outlandish hyperbole—whether it's from Turner, the Atlanta scout who discovered him, or the gleefully absurd Twitter account (@GattisFacts) that celebrates him—begins to feel credible. "Tried to tell y'all about Gattis in spring training," Braves icon and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones tweeted last month. "Y'all wouldn't listen.... Now he's a folk hero."
Forget Gattis's home runs, slugging percentage (through Sunday it was .593, fourth highest in the National League among players with at least 150 plate appearances) and the 6' 4", 235-pound frame and compact, batting gloveless righthanded swing that exude old school strength. Evan Gattis has a higher power, the power to make you believe. In a way it's exactly what he's always been searching for.
As a 17-year-old in 2004, Gattis was one of the top high school prospects in the country. He had starred at three schools in the Dallas area—he bounced around so he could play for specific coaches—and played on a junior national team with future big leaguers Justin Upton, Austin Jackson, Billy Butler and Homer Bailey. He had been recruited to play first base for Rice, then the defending NCAA champion. Gattis wanted to be a catcher though, so he accepted a scholarship to play at Texas A&M.
His baseball future looked bright, but even before he graduated Gattis felt like he was unraveling. He says he became overcome with depression and a fear of failure; to cope, he drank and smoked pot. His struggles intensified the summer after he graduated, and instead of enrolling at A&M in the fall of '04, Gattis entered a 30-day in-patient rehab program in Canton, Texas, followed by three months of therapy at an outpatient facility. Around this time he also developed an interest in spirituality, piqued by his reading of Eckhart Tolle's landmark book The Power of Now.
In the fall of 2005 Gattis tried to restart his baseball career, at Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma. But he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery to repair cartilage damage, and his depression returned. Just as he had during his rehab stay, Gattis contemplated suicide. "I didn't really want to die," he says, "but I did not want to live like that anymore."
In early 2006, Gattis dropped out of school and returned home to Dallas. He told his father, Jo, that he would never play baseball again. That summer he was working as a parking valet when his mother, Melynda, who was divorced from Jo when Evan was in elementary school, bought him a plane ticket so he could visit his half sister, Vanessa, in Boulder, Colo., for his 20th birthday.
Gattis decided to stay in Boulder: He got a job at Nick-n-Willy's, a popular pizzeria, and lived in an apartment with several roommates; his only furniture was an old mattress on the floor. He eventually took a job as a ski lift operator at Eldora Mountain Resort, hitchhiking more than 20 miles from his apartment rather than spending the money for bus fare. Says one of his Boulder roommates, Michael Mootz, "He was a very down-to-earth person."
It was early 2007, and Gattis, then 20, seemed as likely to become President as he was to become a professional ballplayer. He was meditating often, and one day he was in his apartment, rolling clean socks into a ball, when he says he heard a voice. It sounded like one of his own thoughts, he says, but seemed to come from somewhere else. "It was so peaceful," he says. "Little did I know that it would just escalate." Gattis says a sensation of fulfillment overwhelmed him: "I found what I was looking for and didn't want to lose it."
To hold on to that feeling Gattis kept himself awake, sitting alone atop the ski mountain, running his lift and scribbling his thoughts into a notebook. But soon severe insomnia set in, and after seven sleepless days he went to the emergency room. (On his admission form he wrote, "I need to get some sleep.") He was admitted to a psychiatric ward, where, he says, a doctor told him he had bipolar disorder, echoing a diagnosis he had received while in rehab. (Gattis says he disagrees with the diagnosis, though he was treated with medication and therapy.) When he awoke from some long overdue sleep, Gattis felt like he had been "cast out of heaven. It felt like I had something and then I lost it."