"El Oso Blanco" is tearing up the league, and quickly becoming our new favorite player.
It's safe to say the Evan Gattis is having a moment. He's been compared to Chuck Norris and "The Most Interesting Man in the World." His mythical exploits are celebrated on Twitter. On Monday, the Atlanta Braves' 27-year-old catcher was named the National League rookie of the month, after already winning the award for April. The same day, the MLB Fan Cave released this video, imagining Gattis's life before being called up to the show.
Two weeks ago, Atlanta's Sports Radio 680 took a similar take, releasing"The Legend of Oso Blanco":
If that's not enough, there's also Ricky Mast's "Loser"-sampling "The Tale of Oso Blanco":
So what's the deal with Gattis? And where the hell did he get the nickname "El Oso Blanco?" The truth is that the Bunyan-esque, 6'4", 235-pound slugger's real story is even stranger than the mythical "facts" that have sprouted up around him this season. When he was a 17-year-old playing high school ball in Texas in 2004, he was one of the hottest prospects in the country, playing on the junior national team, and committing to play at Rice, then the defending national champs. But with the fear of failure and growing depression, things got out of control as Gattis lost himself in a haze of booze and weed before entering rehab. He tried to get back into the game, enrolling at Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma, but his depression returned, along with suicidal thoughts, and by the winter of '06, he had dropped out of school, and apparently walked away from baseball for good.
And that's where things get interesting. According to a profile in this week's Sports Illustrated (not yet online), Gattis moved in with his half-sister in Boulder, CO, and began a quixotic journey of odd jobs and spiritual seeking. When he wasn't working at a local pizza joint, or as a ski lift operator, he was meditating and reading up on religion. After one incident in which he stayed up for seven days straight seeking (and achieving) some sort of clarity, he was hospitalized. But before the crash, Gattis felt like he'd found something: "It was so peaceful," he told SI. "I found what I was looking for and I didn't want to lose it."
Returning home to Dallas, he worked as a janitor and a golf cart attendant, and then decided to travel the country seeking out spiritual enlightenment from gurus in New York, New Mexico, and, finally, Santa Cruz, CA. It was the the spring of 2009, and for Gattis, the idea of returning to baseball didn't seem so bad anymore.
That fall, he enrolled at University of Texas-Permian Basin, where his step-brother was on the team, and the now-22-year-old proceeded to pick up where he left off, impressing a Braves scout enough that the team took him in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft. That would turn out to be a very prescient pick.
Gattis hit 22 home runs and slugged .601 in Class A ball, then 18 more home runs last year as he moved up through the minors. Playing in the Venezuelan winter league last fall, he led the league in home runs, and picked up the nickname "El Oso Blanco" from a local cabbie. By spring training, where he hit .367 with 6 homers and 16 RBIs, the legend was born…and it just keeps growing.
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