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Gattis wins spot on Braves' Opening Day roster

Young slugger's amazing journey leads him to Atlanta as backup catcher

Gattis wins spot on Braves' Opening Day roster

VIERA, Fla. -- Evan Gattis' wide-ranging resume includes stints as a janitor, ski lift operator and power-hitting catcher. He can now add the distinction of being a Major Leaguer. Before traveling to Viera for Wednesday afternoon's game against the Nationals, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had the pleasure of telling Gattis that he'll be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster.

"I didn't want to play a joke on him," Gonzalez said. "I might have got my [butt] kicked on that one."

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More than two hours after being informed that he was going to be on a big league roster for the first time, the 6-foot-4 Gattis was still visibly overwhelmed with joy.

"I'm trying not to get too excited yet even though I've already cried and everything else," said Gattis, ranked by MLB.com as the No. 16 prospect in the Braves' organization. "I didn't know what to think. It's definitely a day I'll remember forever."

Seven years after declaring he would never again play baseball, Gattis proudly called his parents and girlfriend on Wednesday morning to tell them to make their plans to be in Atlanta for Monday night's Opening Day matchup against the Phillies.

"It was a good experience," Gonzalez said. "Big, old, tough 'El Oso Blanco' shed some tears. We were excited. The whole coaching staff was excited for him."

Nicknamed El Oso Blanco (The White Bear) while playing in the Venezuelan Winter League this past offseason, Gattis is expected to play the catcher's position on a regular basis until Brian McCann makes his expected return from right shoulder surgery in late April.

Gonzalez would not commit to how he would split the time between Gattis and veteran catcher Gerald Laird. But he clearly indicated the two could essentially share the position during the season's first month.

"I think we'll play it by ear," Gonzalez said. "We know what he can do offensively. I didn't tell him he was going to be the backup guy. He could split time with Laird right down the middle, or maybe he could get even more time."

Gattis batted .305 with 18 home runs while primarily playing for Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi last year. He then validated his potential when he hit .303 with 16 home runs and a .595 slugging percentage in 53 games during the Venezuelan Winter League.

With this in mind, the Braves have certainly not been surprised to see Gattis hit .358 (19-for-53) with five doubles and five home runs in his first 22 Grapefruit League games. But they have been encouraged to see him erase some of the doubts surrounding his defensive abilities behind the plate.

"He's good enough where he's not going to cost you the game," Gonzalez said while explaining there could be some situations where Laird is utilized as a late-inning defensive replacement when Gattis is in the lineup.

Gonzalez said it is too early to speculate what Gattis' role will be when McCann is activated from the disabled list. The Braves could keep Gattis' potent bat on their bench by utilizing him as a backup outfielder and third catcher. Or if they want him to play on an everyday basis, they could assign him to handle the catching duties at Gwinnett.

Gattis' ascension to the big league ranks comes three years after he began playing baseball again and just two years after he was forced to participate in extended spring training because the Braves did not have a spot for him on any of their Minor League rosters.

"I was disappointed, of course," Gattis said. "But I planned on playing the game for a long time. ... What are you going to do, just stop playing because you didn't make a team? Don't make a team, make a team and then make the big league team -- goal is accomplished."

Gattis' journey toward this goal is certainly unique.

Instead of going to play baseball at Texas A&M directly out of high school, Gattis first had to battle the depression that had built since his parents had divorced when he was 8 years old. He chose to cope with alcohol and marijuana.

After a stint at a rehab center, Gattis began a four-year journey that led him to serve as a janitor, cook, ski lift operator and a housekeeper at a hostel. Eventually, he realized that he could find peace through playing baseball and opted to do so at the University of Texas Permian Basin. Three years after playing just one season at UTPB and being drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round, Gattis has seen his incredible journey bring him to Atlanta, with the realization of his dream to be a Major Leaguer.

"I'm trying to not get too excited," Gattis said. "I'll be pinching myself when I'm there."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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