Fernando Tatis Jr. he has preferred pink accessories to highlight his uniform since making his big league debut in 2019. Be it shoelaces, sweats, belt, headwear or cleats, something pink is often featured. It is a sign to his mother, when he plays the game, that he is always on his mind.
On Saturday night in San Diego, it was the pink glove that showed up in the fourth inning as he dove into right field and, with his leaping body stretched out, reached in the final second to score a rocket of the evening. air. With two on and two out, Boston’s Triston Casas had drilled a screaming drive straight into the outfield wall with an exit velocity of 108 miles per hour. It was going over Tatis’ head… until it didn’t.
In many ways, with his bat, his gloves and his celebrations, it’s back to business as usual for Tatis, the 24-year-old hitter whose career took off. it was messed up in more ways than one.
“It’s any day now,” Manager Bob Melvin said, marveling at Tatis and his tendency to make impressive plays. “Give him reps, and he can play any position in any game.”
He returned to action on April 20, after two surgeries and an 80-game suspension. positive test for steroids, Tatis hadn’t played a Major League Baseball game in over a year. Expectations for his return were high, but so, too, were questions.
How will his game end with less than a year to go? Could his repaired left shoulder, which he dislocated several times in 2021, limit his ability at the plate? Did the second operation in the Dominican Republic on the right hand that was broken in a motorcycle accident go well?
Then, there were additional questions: After the shame of the people who came with the positive test of clostebol, an anabolic steroid, and his subsequent punishment, how could Tatis be watched in return? And did he sufficiently improve the trust that existed between his colleagues?
“It’s not going to be easy,” Tatis said in an interview with the Padres’ clubhouse last week. “This is probably the most difficult game in the world. I prepared myself. There is an emotional pulse, a physical grind. But, you know, I’m just trying to be prepared the whole time.
As the Padres head to Yankee Stadium this weekend and Tatis faces his toughest test yet in terms of public return, the biggest gamble in Padres history — 14 years, $340 million contract given to Tatis after 143 big games – he looks set to return the favor. The young star is rising to the occasion once again and those around the Padres are talking about his newfound grace and humility.
“The response was there for him,” said Joe Musgrove, the San Diego starter. “And it started about 80 games ago. After the suspension, he went through a little time for a few weeks and it was understandable. But he’s done a good job of putting it behind him. He’s mending fences with players, coaches and fans. He’s forgiven himself, and he’s moved past his mistakes.
“You can’t fix some mistakes. Some you can. This one, he can. “
Musgrove’s tone, in which he spoke about Tatis’ behavior since the suspension, was a stark contrast to the past two years when conflicts arose between Tatis, his teammates and the Padres’ coaching staff. Controversy and questions about Tatis’ maturity, meanwhile, fell as he remained in trouble and worked to prepare for his return.
A big part of that preparation, Tatis said, involved the mental side of his game. He knew the noise would be roaring, from critics and opposing fans who would be looking for any weaknesses they could find. He spent much of the winter “talking good baseball with good baseball guys,” he said. “I feel like I’m putting it all together.”
The conversation started, according to Tatis, with his father, Fernando Tatis Sr., who played in the majors from 1997 to 2010. At home in the Dominican Republic, Tatis Jr. he also consulted with mentors such as Wilton Veras, who played briefly for the Red Sox, and his friend Robinson Canó, a former major leaguer who was double suspension for energy-enhancing drugs.
Tatis said of Canó: “It’s always good to talk about baseball with that guy.” And many guys are on the list, but if I started to name them all, it probably wouldn’t end today.
The Padres brought Tatis to their FanFest in early February specifically to check one early box: His re-entry into public life. It was a friendly, local crowd at Petco Park, but it served its purpose. Although the suspension wasn’t over, it got him out of the penalty box and allowed him to focus more on baseball moving forward.
Melvin, who was without Tatis in his first 182 games as Padres manager, was happy to sign the young star in the lineup.
“It was a day of celebration for all of us,” Melvin said. He was looking away for a long time. And the truth is that he was one of the reasons why I came back here.”
Tatis, who said hitting would be the hardest part of his comeback, went 0 for 5 at the plate in his first game back, but collected one hit in his next nine games. Overall he’s hitting .267 with seven home runs, and through Tuesday, he’s falling short of his peak numbers but is showing his old form.
On the same night that he caught the streak against Boston, Tatis drilled a Chris Sale slider 440 feet into the night, giving him his home run in consecutive games for the first time in nearly two years. Four nights earlier, showing off his newfound comfort in the outfield, he hit a 96.8 mph right-hander — on a fly — to score Kansas City’s Vinnie Pasquantino, who was trying to go from first to third on a single.
Tatis, who arrived in the bigs as a foul-mouthed but entertaining pitcher, is the only outfielder in the league this season with two assists who have hit 96 mph or faster. In Minnesota on May 10, he lost to Carlos Correa at home plate 100-mph laser.
“It’s hot,” said Alex Cora, Boston’s manager, who noted that the Red Sox “have seen the last three players in the game in the last three weeks” in Tatis, Ronald Acuña Jr. of Atlanta and Julio Rodríguez of Seattle. .
Tatis’ inclusion in that category is expected after he finished fourth in the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2020 and third in 2021. But Cora is giving that praise to a player who has been out for more than a year amid many questions about his future. he showed how many walls Tatis had built.
“Overall, I don’t know how anyone can handle it as quickly, and do a better job than they do,” Melvin said of Tatis’ return to prominence.
The public performance, although sometimes obscene, did not faze Tatis.
When he arrived at a Class AAA rehab facility in early April, the pitcher he fired, Giants shortstop Kade McClure, responded by writing, “a cheater met people who worked in steroid rehab.” Tatis ignored the deleted message. He said that he expects things like this and will continue to play the game and have fun.
True to his statement, as fans at Wrigley Field cheered him on with chants of “He’s on steroids!” Tatis disarmed them a playful shimmy.
“I can’t say it’s the way I would have done it,” center fielder Trent Grisham said. But a smile often causes hatred.
Added Melvin: “That’s kind of fun, isn’t it? That’s how baseball starts.”
One of Tatis’ advisors has been his teammate Nelson Cruz, who has thoughts of returning from his 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs back in 2013. Be yourself, Cruz advised Tatis, and just go play.
That’s what Tatis did at the beginning of his career, when his talent helped him become so popular that he was second only to the Dodger’s Mookie Betts. jersey sales in the 2021 season. Whether or not Tatis can be popular again is unknown, but after just one month, he seems to be heading in the right direction.
“I don’t want to be selfish,” he said when asked for an early assessment of his game. “Obviously, it’s coming along well. But I know I have more room. I feel like I can’t do better.”
What he did in his first trip to Dodger Stadium this month was left off — an animosity that was especially felt for Padres outfielder Manny Machado — but Tatis smiled when asked about this week’s visit to Yankee Stadium.
“This is going to be great,” he said. “We will see.” New York. The good thing is, there are many Dominicans out there. So that’s on the positive side. But it’s New York. “
She was smiling as she spoke, various pink accouters appearing as light behind her from her lock. The 24-year-old still has his career ahead of him and is eager to see everything Yankee Stadium has to offer.