Tag Archive | Suicide

Evan Gattis’s Winding Championship Road

It took the Houston Astros 55 years to win the World Series for the first time. With the win over the Dodgers, they take their place as the best team in the sport. Theirs is a remarkable story of organizational perseverance through many failures, recent natural disasters, and rising from the ashes of one of the worst records ever in 2013.

There’s plenty of individual stories that make this team special. Jose Altuve rose from poverty in Venezuela to the MVP of the American League after being signed for $15K in an Astros camp as an unproven 5’6″ infielder from Venezuela after multiple failed tryouts. George Springer came from the relative baseball no man’s land of the University of Connecticut to win the MVP of the World Series. Alex Cora becomes the manager of the Red Sox on the heels of winning this series with the Astros, and now looks to win World Series as a player, coach, and manager. Justin Verlander and Carlos Beltran are both certain Hall of Famers and both finally won World Series rings. Beltran has been playing since 1998 and barely missed playing in the Fall Classic with Houston in 2004, with the Mets in 2006, and lost in the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals. Verlander was the MVP of the ALCS and experienced a rebirth in Houston after a decorated career in Detroit.

All these men have compelling stories that merit recounting. All these men have lessons to teach to onlookers and fans. However, of the Astros players and coaches, no one is more worthy of admiration for his perseverance and painful ride to the show than Evan Gattis. Gattis is a 31 year old catcher/designated hitter from Dallas, Texas. He’s a .252 career hitter over five seasons split between the Atlanta Braves and the Astros. He split time this season with Brian McCann behind the plate and hit .300 in only ten at-bats in the World Series this year. He was a good contributor to the team and a clubhouse glue guy, but not a star on his team or in the sport. But the fact that he was even able to play in the World Series, let alone in Major League Baseball at all, is nothing short of a miracle.

James Evan Gattis grew up in Forney, the Antique Capital of Texas, just north and west of Dallas. At eight years old, his parents divorced. At 12, he moved from his mother’s house to live with his father, who had remarried and started a new family. Gattis didn’t process this well, as he was too busy playing baseball. Fortunately for young Evan, he was a talented player and Dallas was a hotbed of baseball talent. He played on travel teams with Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, and Yovani Gallardo. As he got older, he played on a travel all-star team with Austin Jackson and later in the Junior Olympics with Billy Butler, Homer Bailey, and Justin Upton. All the mentioned teammates made the Majors and had some sustained success at various levels. Gattis proved himself among his peers on the travel teams and in high school, bouncing between R.L. Turner, Forney, and Bishop Lynch high schools so he could play for his favorite coaches.

He was viewed as a good draft pick in the 2004 draft, but he decided against playing professional baseball. Rice University and Texas A&M both offered scholarships for Gattis to play college baseball for them. He accepted A&M’s offer so he could play catcher. But he never played an inning for the Aggies. Before he ever suited up, Gattis had some demons to deal with. His parent’s divorce fed an in-built sense of anxiety and stress that he bottled up for years playing baseball. He started doubting he could succeed in the college game when he left home for College Station and practiced with his new teammates.

These stresses led him to abuse alcohol and marijuana. His mother grew concerned and personally drove him to a drug rehabilitation facility for a 30 day inpatient stay when she found out how Evan was doing. The counselors determined he did not have a drug issue, but he had major anger issues. Gattis was sent to outpatient therapy in a halfway house in Prescott, Arizona, for three months. After his therapy months, Gattis left A&M and enrolled at Seminole State College, a junior college in Seminole, Oklahoma, after the coach recruited him. He redshirted his freshman season and played half of the 2006 season before injuring his knee. After the injury, he burned out and quit baseball. Telling his father he never wanted to play the sport again after doing nothing but baseball to cope with his parent’s divorce. Gattis moved back to Dallas and worked as a parking valet.

Shortly after, he visited his sister in Boulder, Colorado. He liked the area, so he decided to move there, selling his truck and starting work in a pizza parlor and as a ski-lift operator at the Eldora Mountain Resort. That summer, in 2007, Gattis went into a tailspin. He was depressed, unable to sleep, and contemplating suicide. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and checked into an inpatient psychiatric ward. There, he was diagnosed with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. Gattis was then released into the care of his father. He moved to Dallas with his brother, with whom he found work as a janitor for Datamatic Global Services, then as a cart boy at a local golf course.

Years past and Gattis went on even more absurd adventures. He was homeless in New York City for a bit, worked at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and in 2009, Gattis met a New Age spiritual advisor who convinced him to leave his possessions behind and go to Taos, New Mexico. Gattis lived in a hostel and worked at a ski resort while there.

Three months later, Gattis went to California to find a particularly famous New Age Guru. The starter in his 1995 Dodge pick-up truck, so he had to push start his truck to get Los Angeles and then to Santa Barbra without stopping the engine once. He went from there to Santa Cruz where he found the Guru and started to talk to him about the meaning of life and the trials of life. All the Guru said to Gattis was “Evan, maybe you need to chill out.” The disgruntled Gattis thought he had wasted his time and went to San Francisco the next day.

Eventually, after being woken up by a cop tapping on his window while sleeping him his truck, Gattis had some time to reflect on the Guru’s words and the ride he had been on. Here he was, 1,752 miles from his home, close to four years removed from his knee injury, and no longer an athlete. He was not in a psych ward or driven by crippling depression. He had sought direction from famed spiritual gurus and was still wandering. He was still searching for the key to his happiness. He still wanted to close the door on his anger but did not know how to move on. That day, miles from home, it clicked. Evan Gattis was happiest playing baseball.

The now 22 year old Gattis decided that he wanted back on the diamond. Not to bury his anger or be away from his family, but to find solice and peace within himself and in the union of a team again. He pointed his car towards Texas and push started his car with some help from a homeless man in exchange for a six pack of beer. Once moving, Gattis called his father and told him “I’m coming home.” There was only one problem: Gattis had no idea how to get back to playing organized baseball after so long away.

He made one more call, to his step brother, Drew Kendrick. Kendrick was also a baseball player; pitching for the University of Texas-Permain Basin Falcons, a Division II program in far western Odessa, Texas. Kendrick told his head coach, Brian Reinke, about his step brother and Reinke remembered the powerful hitter from his high school days. The Falcons Head Coach offered Gattis a spot on the team with the words “Play a year here and we’ll get you drafted.”

In his first season playing organized baseball in four years, Gattis dazzled, hitting .403 in 57 games, belting 19 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs, and taking 35 walks, 19 of which were intentional. He was named to the All Conference team for the regular season and tournament in the Heartland Conference. True to Reinke’s word, Gattis was drafted after one year in Odessa. Atlanta selected the wandering catcher in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft, with the 704th pick.

After years of meandering, hospital stays, rehab, New Age guidance, homelessness, and personal discovery, Evan Gattis was a professional baseball player. His journey to get to the pros was more complicated than many’s lives ever get. That made the transition to professional baseball shockingly easy. He rose through the ranks with the Braves quickly. The first stop was a successful summer with the Danville Braves of the Rookie level Appalachian League right after being drafted in 2010. The next year, he went to extended spring training after not making any opening day roster for a minor league team in the Braves’ system. He was later added to the Rome Braves, a Class A team, and won the league’s batting title. Gattis continued to rise, reaching Double A in 2012 and impressing in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he earned the nickname “El Oso Blanco”, Spanish for “The White Bear”.

The grind that normally swallows minor leaguers was a welcome change of lifestyle for Gattis. The man had lived four lifetimes in his late teens and early twenties and was already a grown man mentally. He was invited to Spring Training in 2013 and with regular starter Brian McCann starting the year on the disabled list, Gattis was named to the opening day roster. He made his major league debut on April 3rd, 2013, three years after returning to the diamond at any level and only after two and a half years in minor league baseball. He hit a home run in his first major league game against future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. His contributions helped the Braves to the NL East Division Title that season.

Gattis became the primary catcher for the Braves the next season, but was traded the following offseason to the Houston Astros. Despite growing up a Rangers fan and not liking the Astros in his youth, the move back to Texas paid off. In three seasons as an Astro, Gattis has been a catcher and designated hitter for an Astros squad that reached the 2015 Playoffs as a Wild Card, won 101 games in 2017, and claim the American League West crown that season. In the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Gattis hit a solo home run in Game 7 to break a scoreless tie in the fourth. The Yankees never scored, so Gattis effectively drove in and scored the Series winning run on his homer. Eleven days later, the Astros beat the Dodgers for their first World Series.

Ten years prior, Gattis was on the verge of committing suicide. Now, he is happily married and at the top of his profession. No athlete I’ve ever watched has the winding road of Evan Gattis. If a writer pitched Gattis’s life to a studio as a movie script, it would be laughed out of the room for being too absurd. But it’s real. Gattis has lived a crazy life and is an inspiration to anyone struggling with mental illness, personal doubt, substance abuse, or troubled family life. I hope people read his story and walk away smiling. If he can live through what he did, keep going. You can make it through your trials. Just keep going. Gattis did and made it through. You can too.

Aaron Hernandez: Tragically Wasted Talent

On October 21, 2012, I went to Gillette Stadium for my first ever Patriots game, and first ever NFL game. It was awesome! The tailgating scene was impressive, the crowd was excellent, and the game was outstanding. The Pats played the Jets. They trailed their long time rivals by three late in the game before Tom Brady drove the team into field goal range, Gostowski kicked the equalizer, and the Patriots won in overtime on another Gostowski field goal and Rob Ninkovich sacking Mark Sanchez, forcing a fumble, and recovering it in the same play. I enjoyed the day. Today though, I’m not thinking of that excellent game. 

Before the game, I bought my first Patriots shirt. I wanted a little different name on my shirt and I wanted to show a little Connecticut love. So I bought an Aaron Hernandez shirt. He is from Bristol, CT. Then June 26 of the following year arrived and I regretted my decision. He was arrested that day for the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. When that happened, I watched in shock as one of the best players in football was taken away in handcuffs. I didn’t think he would’ve done it. I then looked into Hernandez’s history and the case itself; I found plenty of reason to be skeptical of Hernandez’s claim of innocence. I also was saddened watching this talent get completely wasted. 

He grew up in Bristol, CT, and was one of the best high school tight ends in the country. He originally committed to the University of Connecticut to play with his brother, DJ. He changed his mind and went to the University of Florida instead. Under coach Urban Meyer, Hernandez developed into one of the best collegiate tight ends of the decade. He starred on one of the best college teams ever assembled. He caught passes from Tim Tebow, blocked alongside Mike and Maurkice Pouncy, was flanked by Percy Hardin and Riley Cooper for receiving work, and was backed up by Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins on the defensive side. Yet his time in Gainesville is known more for his legal issues. 

Hernandez failed multiple drug tests and gained the reputation for being a guy who’d skirt the rules for a little enjoyment. However, there were two other major episodes that color him poorly. In April of 2007, Hernandez was in Gainesville and went out to a bar. He was 17 years old, consumed two alcoholic drinks, and refused to pay the bill. He was escorted up out by an employee, and Hernandez punched him so hard he ruptured the employee’s eardrum. He was arrested and charged with a felony battery charge. The matter was settled out of court with a differed prosecution agreement. Later that year, in September, Justin Glass and Corey Smith were injured when they were shot at on a street corner after just leaving a night club. Their friend Randall Carson, who was in the car and not injured, claimed that the shooter was a Hawaiian or Hispanic man with a large build and many tattoos. Hernandez invoked his right for counsel on the issue and was never charged. 

While he wasn’t hit for either of these incidents, Hernandez gained a reputation as a supremely gifted player but with a checkered past. If any organization could handle him, it probably would be a well run one like the Patriots. New England drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, two rounds after the team picked Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski. The team had the best tight end tandem in the league and rode their two acquisitions to a 39-9 record over the next three seasons and a trip to Super Bowl 46. Hernandez became the most dependable receiver on the Patriots roster with Gronk’s injuries and Wes Welker’s ability to drop major passes. 

Unfortunately for him, the Patriots, and many others, things took a horrible turn for the worst. In July 2012, Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado were killed in the South End of Boston. Hernandez was indicted on these murders in 2014. He was acquitted of these on April 14th of this year. But even that is not the most damning story against Hernandez. 

On June 17th, 2013, Boston Bandit’s semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd was out at a night club and crossed Hernandez. Lloyd was dating Shaneah Jenkins, sister of Hernandez’s fiancee at the time. Whatever he said or did, it meant the end for him. Hernandez unloaded ten bullets into Lloyd, killing him. His body was discovered the next day and an investigation began. On June 26th, Hernandez was arrested on a count of first degree murder, one count of carrying a firearm without a license, two counts of possessing a large-capacity firearm and two counts of possessing a firearm without a firearm identification card. 

The Patriots released him from his contract with the team and owner Robert Kraft was stunned. He admitted that Hernandez had been a model Patriot, arriving early for work, practicing long and hard, building a strong repor with Tom Brady, and getting on Bil Belichek’s good side. Hernandez could diagram plays on a whiteboard as well as anyone and was a phenomenal football player and mind. He seemed to be exactly the perfect Patriot. But when he left the building, Hernandez refused to give up the dangerous life of the streets. He found some pleasure in the drugs, gang life, and was able to hide that under the veneer of playing for the most succesful NFL organization of the day. I went from a fan of his and owning his shirt to getting rid of it and turning the Patriots logo on the front of it into a part of a quilt I still own. I wasn’t alone in my removal of Hernandez kit. All Patriots fans did similarly to me. 

After a long trial, Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder on April 15, 2015. Massachusetts has removed the death penalty from its potential sentences, so Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He was acquitted of the double murder charges in South Boston only five days ago. But apparently Hernandez did not believe it worthwhile to continue his life. In the early hours of this morning, April 19th, Hernandez was found in his prison cell, dead. He had hung himself using his cell’s window and his bedsheets. How depressingly appropriate that the Patriots visited the White House today in honor of their Super Bowl win this year. 

Everything about the story of Aaron Hernandez is sad. He came from a rough background, showed remarkable athletic talent, stayed on the streets in his mind, and lost his position as a reliable pass catcher for the best quarterback in the history of football because he was accustomed to gangster life. Hernandez is the most tragically wasted athletic talent of my lifetime. We saw what he could do and how he could contribute to a high level football team. We also saw how far into depravity a human being can fall. Lloyd was brutally killed over a meaningless dispute that stil remains murky to passersby. The brutal murder was capped with the most depressing way for someone to die: suicide. No one can condone or protect Hernandez for his actions. But any jokes about him committing suicide are unnecessary and crude. No one deserves that fate. 

It is a depressingly appropriate ending to the most tragic sports story of my lifetime. I can only pray that some good comes of it for someone who knows the story and decides that the street life is not worth it.