By DJ Sixsmith
Houston Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis is Major League Baseball’s most interesting man. The Texas native gardens cucumbers and jalapenos, used to be a janitor and is one of the only players in baseball who doesn’t wear batting gloves. Just like former major leaguers Moises Alou and Jorge Posada, Gattis has gone to the extreme of peeing on his hands in order to toughen his skin.
“I’ve done it, but only after I found out that others guys had done it before,” said Gattis. “It was a high school thing and I wanted to be cool. I did it in the shower; I don’t know why I did it. It’s not like I carried around a jar of pee.”
This is just one part of Gattis’ fascinating journey to the Houston Astros. Back in the day, the 29-year-old was considered one of the top high school catchers in the country. Evan had multiple Division 1 scholarship offers and grew up playing on All-Star teams with guys like Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Chicago White Sox outfielder Austin Jackson. Gattis had the opportunity to watch a young Kershaw develop into a big time pitcher.
“He really came into his own once he grew. He was a pretty good athlete and a good hitter. He really came into his body as a freshman in high school and that’s when he started throwing harder. He had a lot of life on his cutter.”
While Kershaw became a top 10 pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, Gattis decided to quit the game of baseball. The Astros DH had a fear of failing and struggled with depression, substance abuse and anxiety after high school. Gattis hit his low point when he went to rehab and decided that he needed to find himself.
“I went to rehab in Arizona because I was depressed. It wasn’t like I was getting hammered drunk or high all the time. I just came to a point where I decided I didn’t want to go on like this. Everything happens for a reason and luckily my story wasn’t over.”
After working jobs as a janitor, ski-lodge attendant and housekeeper, Gattis returned to baseball and enrolled at Division II Texas-Permian Basin. The catcher hit .403 with 11 home runs in his only season in Odessa, Texas and ended up being selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft. The Astros utility man played everywhere from Appalachian League to the Venezuelan Winter League. Gattis got his nickname El Oso Blanco (The White Bear) while playing in South America and will never forget his time in Venezuela.
“Venezuela has an unbelievable baseball culture. Their fans were so loud. It really got me ready for the nerves of playing in the big leagues. I felt like if I could play left field in Caracas with a ton of loud fans than I could do the same thing in the big leagues. I played an exhibition game that was louder than any game I’ve ever played in.”
The Venezuelan League prepared Gattis perfectly for the atmosphere and pitching of the majors. The former custodian hit home runs off Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Stephen Strasburg in his first year. In fact, he was named the NL Rookie of the Month in April 2013. The legend of El Oso Blanco continues to grow in Houston. Gattis was second in the league in triples last season, hit 27 home runs and helped the Astros make the postseason for the first time since 2005. Although the Astros are currently in last place in the AL West, Gattis believes his team will turn things around.
“So far it’s been a rough start and it’s not been what we expected. We expect to win and we are too good to be in this position.”
DJ Sixsmith hosts CBS Sports Radio Roundup from 2-6pm. The Fordham University graduate is also a play-by-play announcer who has called games on Fox Sports, ESPN 3 and the Big East Digital Network. Follow DJ on Twitter @DJ_Sixsmith.