Fernando Tatis’s journey began with a childhood bedtime story. It was a journey on which family, faith, and baseball all intersected. Although it was filled with injuries and struggles, the journey contained moments of triumph – both professionally and personally. Early in the 1999 season, Tatis accomplished one of the most memorable feats in baseball history: hitting two grand slams in one inning. And baseball also enabled Tatis to accomplish the personal triumphs of finding his father and building a church.
Fernando Tatis (pronounced TAH-teese) was born on January 1, 1975, in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic, to Fernando Antonio Tatis and Yudelca Tatis.1 His father was a minor-league infielder in the Houston Astros organization from 1969 to 1978, advancing as high as the Triple-A level, but was released after his play began to suffer in part due to the lingering effects of a shoulder injury. These struggles on the diamond affected his father’s personal life, resulting in a divorce with Yudelca in the late 1970s. Although the elder Tatis did continue in baseball as an Astros minor-league coach and scout into the early 1980s, the pain and suffering of a difficult failed second marriage caused him to quit baseball and disappear, having no further contact with his ex-wife, Yudelca (with whom he had remained friendly), or his young son.
As a child, Tatis’s primary memory of his absent father was from a favorite bedtime story he would have his mother often recite. The story involved the time when “Fernandito” (Tatis’s childhood nickname) was brought home from the hospital at two days old. As the story goes, when he was placed in his crib for the first time, his father smiled and laid a miniature baseball bat across his newborn son’s chest and said, “God bless you, Fernandito; someday you will be a baseball player just like your father.”2 This story stoked Tatis’s love for baseball, and provided motivation to succeed in reaching the big leagues where his father had failed.
Growing up with only his mother in the Miramar neighborhood of San Pedro de Macorís, Tatis cultivated his love for the game by following the Dominican big leaguers of the day. He recalled, “We grew up watching those guys play – Pedro Guerrero, Alfredo Griffin, George Bell, Tony Fernández. When we watch those people, how could we not love baseball?”3 Tatis also noted the close connection these Dominican stars had with the local community: “It’s not that unusual to see ballplayers, to be able to talk to them. They’re still a part of where they came from.”4
Tatis played baseball on the streets as a child, learning to bat and throw right-handed like his father. He tore up blankets, rolled the pieces into balls, and sewed them together to make baseballs. Tatis loved the game so much that he would “play with anything.”5 As he got older, he began playing organized amateur ball, improving his skills, and attended the same San Pedro de Macorís high school that generated much big-league talent over the years, including stars Rico Carty, Alfonso Soriano, and Sammy Sosa. Tatis’s potential did not go unnoticed by big-league scouts in this baseball-rich area. After a tryout camp in the Dominican Republic in which he “(distinguished) himself from the pack almost immediately,” the 17-year-old infielder was signed by the Texas Rangers as an amateur free agent on August 25, 1992, receiving a signing bonus of $8,000.6 Tatis was scouted by fellow Dominican Omar Minaya, who later went on to attain notable executive-level positions in the Montreal Expos, New York Mets, and San Diego Padres organizations. Minaya recalled, “Fernando was young and lean, but he also had a loose arm, good hands, and he was a good athlete. He wasn’t as big in his upper body as he is now, but he had good body definition. He had a muscular frame for a little guy. Plus, you could tell there was something else about him. He knew how to play the game.”7
Assigned by the Rangers to the Dominican Summer League in 1993 to accelerate his development, Tatis had a solid season, hitting .273 with 4 home runs and 27 RBIs in 59 games.8 His first taste of minor-league ball in the United States came the next season in the Gulf Coast League. Primarily playing third base for the Rangers’ rookie-league affiliate, Tatis hit an impressive .330 in 60 games, and was rewarded with a promotion to the low Class-A Charleston RiverDogs of the South Atlantic League in 1995. Settling in at the third-base position, Tatis had another successful season. Leading the RiverDogs in average (.303), home runs (15), and RBIs (84), Tatis was named the Rangers’ Minor League Player of the Year. Continuing his upward trajectory, Tatis began the 1996 season with the Port Charlotte Rangers of the advanced Class-A Florida State League. Although a broken wrist in spring training delayed his regular-season debut, he posted another solid season in Port Charlotte, hitting .286 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs in 85 games.9 Tatis finished the season playing in two games for the Oklahoma City 89ers of the Triple-A American Association.
The 1997 season proved to be a watershed for Tatis. Beginning the season for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers of the Texas League, he continued his offensive productivity, hitting .314 and swiping 17 bases. Although not a particularly large man, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Tatis displayed some power, hitting 24 home runs for the Drillers, good for second place in the league. Three of those home runs came in a single game in a 19-8 victory over Shreveport on June 19, making Tatis the first Driller to accomplish that feat.10 Also noted as having “good defensive range,” Tatis was touted as being a Texas League top 10 prospect.11 His strong performance at Tulsa resulted in a Texas League All-Star Game start at third base, and a second Rangers Minor League Player of the Year Award – the Rangers’ first-ever two-time winner.12 It also resulted in Tatis attaining the goal he dreamed of as a child – a promotion to the big leagues.
Replacing Rangers starting third baseman Dean Palmer, who had been traded to the Kansas City Royals, Tatis made his big-league debut on July 26, 1997, in Chicago against the White Sox (less than four months after his cousin Ramón Tatis became the first player named Tatis ever to appear in the major leagues).13 He singled in his first major-league at-bat – getting his first RBI in the process – and hit his first big-league home run the following night, a solo shot off the White Sox’ Danny Darwin. Tatis started 60 of the Rangers’ 61 remaining games at third base, finishing the season eighth among American League rookies in both home runs (8) and RBIs (29), despite the limited playing time.
In addition to being a watershed year professionally, 1997 was also an extremely important year for Tatis personally. Since the inception of his minor-league journey in the United States, he had searched unsuccessfully for his long-lost father, who was rumored to have settled in Florida. Thanks to the prodding of Minaya, he decided to divulge the story of his missing father to a reporter in August, hoping that it would aid in his search.14 Numerous newspapers around the country picked up the story, including one in Sarasota, Florida, where his father had been living and working as a contract painter. His father saw the article, reached out to the Rangers organization, and in September father and son had an emotional reunion in Texas. Upon seeing his father after their long separation, Tatis said, “It’s like a big pain is gone. I feel so much better, like I can breathe again.”15 The following day, Tatis capped this happy occasion by hitting two home runs in a game against the Minnesota Twins with his father in attendance.
Tatis began the 1998 season as the Rangers’ starting third baseman, having a solid first half. Attempting to collect the personnel pieces needed to win the AL West, however, the Rangers reluctantly dealt the promising Tatis to the St. Louis Cardinals in July.16 For the remainder of the season, he started at third for the Cardinals. After having hit only three home runs in 95 games for the Rangers, Tatis experienced a power surge in St. Louis, hitting eight home runs in 55 games. This was a harbinger of things to come.
Building off his strong finish in 1998, Freddie (as he was nicknamed by teammates) had a career year in St. Louis in 1999 – with some very memorable early-season success. On April 23 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Tatis accomplished one of the most notable feats in baseball history. With his team down 2-0 in the top of the third inning and the bases loaded, Tatis hit a pitch from Chan Ho Park into the left-field bullpen for a grand slam. Later in the inning, after his teammates continued to reach base safely via a series of walks, hits, and an error, Tatis again stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Having worked the count full, he once again delivered, driving an offering from Park over the fence in left-center field for his second grand slam of the inning. In accomplishing this feat, Tatis became the first major leaguer ever to hit two grand slams in the same inning.17 His eight RBIs in one inning were also a major-league record, leading the Cardinals to a 12-5 victory. Tatis continued his strong performance throughout the season, ending the year hitting .298 with 34 home runs, 107 RBIs, 104 runs, and 21 steals. His 34 home runs broke Ken Boyer’s 1960 club record for the most home runs (32) by a St. Louis third baseman.18 He also played solid defense, committing only four errors after the All-Star break.
The beginning of the 2000 season saw Tatis continue his hot hitting for the Cardinals. He hit .375 with six home runs and a National League-leading 28 RBIs in April, hitting safely in 18 of his 21 games during that span. A strained left groin suffered in late April, however, caused Tatis to miss two months of action.19 Upon finally returning to the lineup, Tatis was unable to regain his early-season momentum. Although he finished the season hitting .253 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs in 96 games, Tatis struggled mightily down the stretch, going 5-for-46 in his final 14 games. Because of those late-season struggles, Tatis found himself benched in favor of Plácido Polanco throughout the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Although unhappy about this, he admitted, “I’ve got to have more concentration (at the plate). I’ve got to hit the ball.”20 An injury to Polanco got Tatis his first taste of major-league postseason action. He played in all five games of the Championship Series, going 3-for-13 with two doubles and two RBIs in the series loss to the New York Mets.
Seeking to bolster their pitching staff, the Cardinals dealt Tatis to Montreal after the season. Questions surrounding possible poor work habits and conditioning after his groin injury also were rumored to have played a role in the decision to make Tatis expendable. Being upset over these rumors and how the trade was handled, he took the news particularly hard, noting that the Cardinals were “my team, what I played for, where I put up really good numbers.”21
Tatis played the next three seasons for the Expos, signing his first sizable contract ($2.75 million) there. During that time, he was able to reunite with Minaya, who became Montreal’s general manager in 2002. “It’s going to be great for us, especially for the Latin guys. We’re going to feel pretty confident. Not that we didn’t feel confident with an American guy, but it just feels great to have somebody from your country be a GM,” Tatis said of Minaya’s hiring.22 But Tatis battled numerous injuries all along the way in Montreal, limiting him to 41, 114, and 53 games in the 2001-2003 seasons respectively. Tatis also battled poor play. His batting average declined precipitously each year, finally bottoming out at .194 in 2003. Additionally, Tatis’s perceived bad attitude caused a strained relationship with Expos manager Frank Robinson, and also alienated him from some teammates. And his overweight and listless appearance resulted in embittered Expos fans calling him “Fatis.”23 This difficult time in Montreal culminated in Tatis spending the final 3½ months of the 2003 season on the disabled list due to panic attacks, with one teammate commenting, “I think he’s done.”24 In October 2003 the Expos granted him free agency. In reflecting back on his experience in Montreal, Tatis admitted, “I don’t miss the Expos, no. In Montreal, they don’t like baseball. When I was there, they lost the feeling for baseball.”25
Hoping for a new start, Tatis signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but was released during 2004 spring training. Disappointed, he returned home to the Dominican Republic with his wife and children. He spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons out of professional baseball. A devout Christian since his childhood and noted for his charitable actions during his baseball career, Tatis decided to shift his focus toward construction of a church for the community in his hometown of San Pedro de Macorís.26 Needing funds to get the church built, Tatis realized that if he was able to sign a new major-league contract, he would earn the money necessary to help bring the project to fruition. Tatis told his family quite presciently that he was going to return to the big leagues. Indeed, the Baltimore Orioles contacted him, and in November 2005 the club signed him to a contract, making his goal of building the new church attainable.
In an effort to prepare Tatis for his attempted comeback, the Orioles assigned him to the Ottawa Lynx of the Triple-A International League for the 2006 season. He regained his stroke there, hitting .298 in 90 games. This was good enough to get Tatis a promotion to the big-league club in late July. Playing in 28 games for the Orioles, he reinvented himself as a utility player, splitting time at first base, second base, third base, and the outfield. Tatis failed to impress, however, hitting .250 in his time with the big-league club. He was granted free agency in December.
The Dodgers decided to take a gamble on the fading 32-year-old for the 2007 season, but released him in March after his poor performance in spring training. All was not lost for Tatis, however, as he again reconnected with Minaya, now the Mets’ general manager, whom he once described as being “like my big brother.”27 The Mets signed Tatis on March 23 and assigned him to the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. “I thought he still had something left,” Minaya said.28 Although Tatis had a relatively productive season in New Orleans (hitting .276 with 21 home runs, 67 RBIs, and 90 runs in 131 games), he did not get a call-up to the big-league club. In addition to battling on the field in his unsuccessful attempt to return to big leagues in 2007, Tatis also had to battle off-the-field issues. Early in the year, it was reported that Major League Baseball had requested medical files from Tatis in their investigation of the use of steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing substances by players.29 But when the Mitchell Report was released in December, he was not implicated in any wrongdoing.30
Finding himself back with the Zephyrs at the beginning of the 2008 campaign, Tatis enjoyed a power resurgence, hitting 12 home runs in his first 37 games for New Orleans. This, plus a season-ending injury in May to Mets outfielder Ángel Pagán, opened the door for Tatis to return to the big leagues. He made the most of his opportunity, experiencing a rebirth of sorts in New York. Playing solid defense in the outfield and delivering several clutch hits for the team early on, Tatis quelled any doubts about his work habits and commitment to the game that beleaguered him in St. Louis and Montreal. Mets teammate David Wright said, “Obviously, he’s come up with some big hits for us, he’s played some outstanding defense, but just as important, he’s given us a lot of energy. He goes out there and plays hard, plays the game the right way and I think that rubs off on a lot of players. Players see his excitement, passion, his intensity, and they want to go out there and match it.”31 Injuries to Mets outfielders Moisés Alou and Ryan Church solidified a starting outfield spot for Tatis. He continued his strong play into midseason, leading the major leagues in hitting for the month of July with a .397 batting average. Although he suffered a season-ending shoulder separation in September, Tatis finished his first season in New York in fine fashion, posting a .297 batting average, 11 home runs, and 47 RBIs in 92 games. He was named The Sporting News NL Comeback Player of the Year.32 Tatis capped the year by returning home to San Pedro de Macorís in November to visit Jerusalem First Church, the church he helped construct, which had opened in the spring. Remaining humble about his role in the project, Tatis said, “Most people down here do not know I was involved in building the church. I tried to keep it a secret down here. I told my wife I don’t want anyone to know what we did for this church. The more we can keep it a secret, the better I feel.”33
Extending his feel-good comeback into the following year, Tatis spent spring training representing his home country in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. As the Mets’ season kicked off, however, a logjam of healthy returning starters and newly acquired outfielders left Tatis without a clear position. Still, his offensive ability and defensive versatility won him a roster spot. Even as a utility player, Tatis managed to appear in 125 games for New York, the most he had played in a season since his breakout year in 1999. During the course of the season, Tatis played all four infield positions, left field, and right field. Offensively, he finished the year hitting a solid .282 with 8 home runs and 48 RBIs.
Back with the Mets for the 2010 season, age and injuries began to catch up to Tatis. He struggled early on, posting a .185 batting average after 41 games. Still suffering the lingering effects of the shoulder injury he sustained in 2008, Tatis was placed on the disabled list in July. Shortly thereafter, he had surgery to repair a labrum tear and clean out the AC joint.34 It was too much for the 35-year-old to overcome, and Tatis never returned to the major leagues. He finished his big-league career with a .265/.344/.442 slash line, 113 home runs, and 448 RBIs.
Nevertheless holding onto his baseball career, Tatis continued to play in the Dominican Winter League from 2011 to 2013, as he had done each year since 2006. He noted how seriously Dominicans take baseball: “In the Dominican, everybody knows you. Everybody’s there, every day. They live for this stuff, man. We’re crazy about baseball. Everyone knows about baseball in the Dominican, and everywhere you go, people talk to you about the same thing over and over again. And if you screwed up, watch out. They love you, but they’ll criticize you, because they want you to win. No matter what, they want you to win. At all costs.”35 In 2014 Tatis signed with the Vaqueros de la Laguna of the Mexican League, but was released a month later. Later that year, he retired from professional baseball.
The record holder for most grand slams and RBIs in an inning settled in the Dominican Republic on a farm in Juan Dolio with his wife, María, and their five children, Fernando Gabriel, Fernando Joshua, Elijah, María Fernanda, and Daniel Fernando.36 All five children were given biblical names, according to Tatis.37 Son Fernando Gabriel (popularly known as Fernando Jr.) followed in his father’s footsteps as a highly-touted infield prospect, signing a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2015 for a reported bonus of $700,000. In 2016 the White Sox dealt the youngster to the San Diego Padres organization, where he progressed to becoming the club’s “unquestioned top prospect” after finishing the 2017 season at the Double-A level.38
In addition to following his son’s exploits on the diamond, Tatis himself has remained close to the game. He conducted “marathon” offseason training sessions with Twins slugger Miguel Sanó to prepare him for the 2017 campaign; this culminated in Sanó using Tatis as his pitcher during that season’s MLB Home Run Derby.39 Tatis also has coached in the Dominican Winter League, and was added to the Boston Red Sox organization in 2018 as the manager of one of their clubs in the Dominican Summer League.40
Last revised: October 29, 2022
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Tatis’s file at the library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York; Baseball-Reference.com; Newspapers.com; and Retrosheet.org.
1 During Tatis’s playing career, he and his father were sometimes referred to as Fernando Jr. and Sr., respectively. Tatis’s son – now popularly also known as Fernando Jr. – has himself begun gaining in renown with his recent success in professional baseball. Tatis, his father, and his son are therefore now often referred to as Fernando II, I, and III, respectively, when it is needed to distinguish between the three consecutive generations of Fernando Tatises who have played in Organized Baseball.
2 Tim Crothers, “In the Name of the Father: To Find His Dad, Fernando Tatis Jr. Had to Make It to the Big Leagues,” Sports Illustrated, June 14, 1999.
3 Tim Wendel, The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America’s Favorite Sport (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 180.
4 Wendel, 183.
5 Mark Kurlansky, The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macorís (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 130.
6 Mike Berardino, “A Friend of the Family,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 3, 2002.
7 Mike Berardino, “A Friend of the Family.”
8 Ben Badler, “Mining for Prospects in the DSL,” Baseball America, March 17, 2009, baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/international-affairs/2009/267777.html, accessed August 16, 2016.
9 2006 Baltimore Orioles Information & Record Book (Baltimore: Baltimore Orioles, 2006), 226.
10 Barry Lewis, “Saying Goodbye to Drillers Stadium: The Top Moments in Stadium History,” Tulsa World, June 24, 2016.
11 Barry Lewis, “Ward, Tatis Head List of Texas League Stars,” Tulsa World, August 24, 1997.
12 Barry Lewis, “Tonight’s Game,” Tulsa World, June 23, 1997.
13 Murray Chass, “Hirschbeck Is Back in an Unwelcome Spotlight,” New York Times, August 24, 1997.
14 Murray Chass, “Tatis Finally Hears, ‘We Found Your Father,’” New York Times, August 20, 1997.
15 Tim Crothers, “In the Name of the Father.”
16 Murray Chass, “Baseball: Notebook; Tatis Has Blossomed as Cardinal Slugger,” New York Times, May 9, 1999.
17 Mike Huber, “April 23, 1999: Fernando Tatis Hits Two Grand Slams in One Inning,” SABR Baseball Games Project, sabr.org/gamesproj/game/april-23-1999-fernando-tatis-hits-two-grand-slams-one-inning, accessed August 16, 2016.
18 2006 Baltimore Orioles Information & Record Book, 226.
19 2006 Baltimore Orioles Information & Record Book, 226.
20 Rick Hummel, “Tatis Returns to Third,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2000.
21 Mike Eisenbath, “Tatis Is Still Upset Over How Trade Was Handled,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 26, 2001.
22 Mike Berardino, “A Friend of the Family.”
23 Jonah Keri, “Tatis the Unlikely Catalyst of the Resurgent Mets,” New York Sun, August 21, 2008.
24 Stephanie Myles, “Panic Attacks Strike Out an Expo,” Montreal Gazette, August 4, 2003.
25 David Brown, “Q&A with Fernando Tatis, MLBPA’s Comeback Player of the Year,” Yahoo! Sports, October 25, 2008, sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/Q-amp-A-with-Fernando-Tatis-MLBPA-s-Comeback-Pl?urn=mlb,115797, accessed on August 16, 2016.
26 “Fernando Tatis: In God’s Moment,” The Christian Broadcasting Network, 1.cbn.com/sports/fernando-tatis%3A-in-god%27s-moment, accessed August 16, 2016.
27 Mike Berardino, “A Friend of the Family.”
28 Kevin Kernan, “Amazin’ Surprise Star Tatis Builds Church,” New York Post, November 29, 2008.
29 Duff Wilson, “Sosa and Palmeiro Cited in Steroid Investigation,” New York Times, May 9, 2007.
30 George J. Mitchell, “Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball,” Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, December 13, 2007.
31 Kristie Ackert, “Fernando is Marvelous Once Again,” New York Daily News, May 31, 2008.
32 2010 New York Mets Media Guide (New York: Sterling Mets, 2010), 217.
33 Kevin Kernan, “Amazin’ Surprise Star Tatis Builds Church.”
34 Adam Rubin, “Tatis Has Surgery,” ESPN.com, July 15, 2010, espn.com/blog/new-york/mets/post/_/id/6753/tatis-has-surgery, accessed August 16, 2016.
35 Alden Gonzalez, “Former Major Leaguers Keep Playing in Caribbean Ball: Tatis Still Active in Dominican Republic; Garcia Plugging Away in Mexico,” MLB.com, m.mlb.com/news/article/41400422/former-major-leaguers-fernando-tatis-karim-garcia-keep-playing-in-caribbean-leagues, accessed August 16, 2016.
36 Jeff Sanders, “Fernando Tatis Jr. Groomed for Big Future in Baseball,” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 28, 2017, sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/padres/sd-sp-padres-fernando-tatis-jr-groomed-for-big-future-in-baseball-20170928-story.html, accessed January 10, 2018.
37 “Mi Gente: Fernando Tatis,” Listín Diario, February 26, 2012.
38 Jeff Sanders, “Postseason Awards Rolling in for Fernando Tatis Jr.,” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 8, 2017, sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/padres/sd-sp-padres-fernando-tatis-minor-league-awards-20170908-story.html, accessed January 10, 2018.
39 Mike Berardino, “Fernando Tatis on Star Pupil Miguel Sano: ‘I’m Always Going to Be There for Him,’” St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 11, 2017, twincities.com/2017/07/11/fernando-tatis-on-star-pupil-miguel-sano-im-always-going-to-be-there-for-him/, accessed January 10, 2018.
40 “Tatis Asegura Lake Retomará Su Forma,” Estrellas Orientales, December 9, 2017, estrellasorientales.com.do/2017/12/09/tatis-asegura-lake-retomara-forma/, accessed January 12, 2018; Jason Mastrodonato, “Red Sox Minor League Coaching Staffs Get Little Change,” Boston Herald, January 10, 2018, bostonherald.com/sports/red_sox/2018/01/red_sox_minor_league_coaching_staffs_get_little_change, accessed January 10, 2018.