Injured and low on enthusiasm after playing parts of seven major league seasons, Fernando Tatis walked away from baseball in 2003 at age 28. Tatis was content with retirement until his family found a project that needed more money than it had saved.
Tatis, who once hit two grand slams in an inning — the only such feat in major league history — decided his greatest asset still was his swing. After two seasons of dues-paying in the minors, Tatis, at 33, became a catalyst to the New York Mets playoff drive before he separated his shoulder and they fizzled again down the stretch.
Tatis was just named the MLBPA's Comeback Player of the Year, winning the award over Jorge Cantu of the Marlins and Kerry Wood of the Cubs.
Q: How does it feel to even be considered for Comeback Player of the Year?
Fernando Tatis: That's amazing. It's a great feeling that I have right now. I'm just enjoying the moment. It's like a dream come true, to see all the hard work from down in the minor leagues, and in the majors, lead to this. It worked out for me and for the whole organization, too.
Q: The reason you wanted to play again was to fund the building of a church where you live?
FT: That's true. We wanted to do that for Santo Domingo/San Pedro de Macoris and finally that dream came true. I told my wife and sister in law that if we want to do this, I'm going to have to play baseball one more time. I did my part, I started to practice and went to the minor leagues and it took me a couple years to make it to the big leagues, to do what we wanted to do — to build the church in our home town — and now, our dream has come true. It's a great feeling for us.
Q: Why was it so important? What was missing?
FT: It's very important for me and my family because we are Christians; we believe in God. We felt that if we helped to build a bigger church in our hometown, it's going to be a lot better for everyone. We wanted to invite more people into our church. The church that we had was kind of small and not many people could fit inside. It's very important for me, because we want a lot of people to go there and believe in God and pray. We just want the whole town to go there and listen to the word of God. That's our goal.
Q: In addition to the church, was there anything else that motivated you to come back?
FT: Ah, at that moment, that was the point. That was our goal. I knew it was not going to be easy to make it one more time to the majors, because everybody knows how hard it is to make it to the big leagues, especially when you've had a couple of years off, not playing, not doing anything, it was hard for me to come back. It was not about any other points in my head. Just one thing: to make it to the big leagues to build a church. That was my goal in that moment.
Q: When you got to the Mets organization, they already had David Wright, who plays the same position as you, third base. Did you worry that it would keep you out of the majors even longer?
FT: You know, David Wright is one of the greatest players in the big leagues. I was not worried about it because I put it in my mind that if I didn't make it with the Mets, I'm going to make it to the other teams. I was not really worried about, too, because there were other positions that I could play. I was so happy that they gave me the opportunity to play first base and right field and left field. That was great for me.
Q: You hit so well when you came back, did you ever thing that the time spent away was wasted? Or was it necessary for you to get away for a couple years?
FT: To tell you the truth, I was very surprised about it. To hit so well coming back to the big leagues, to make all the adjustments you need to make for being a good hitter. It's not easy when you take a couple of years off. You don't know anybody anymore, all the pitchers. It was hard for me to make the adjustments at the plate. It took a lot of hard work, watching a lot of videos, but I was very surprised how it happened.
Q: Are you watching the playoffs right now? Are you watching the Phillies?
FT: That's a good question [laughs]. Sometimes, I watch it and sometimes I don't. I'm enjoying my kids right now and I've got to help them with homework and I've got to put them to bed early. I've got five kids, the oldest is 9, and they keep me busy.
Q: So, you know that the Phillies are still playing — what do you think about how they're doing?
FT: Ah, I know they're doing pretty good. They have a good team and they're competitive. They fight and are going to fight until the end and they're going to keep playing that way until the end of the playoffs. I know they're doing good.
Q: How does your shoulder feel?
FT: My shoulder feels a lot better. I feel pretty good. It's becoming stronger. I'm going to start playing ball in the Dominican Republic. I played three practice games already, practice games, and it's coming along really good so far.
Q: Do you expect to be 100 percent for spring training?
FT: Yes, that's my goal. That, and to become a better teammate.
Q: I have to ask you about the two grand slam game when you were with the Cardinals. What do you remember most about it?
FT: Ha! That's a great moment for me. A big moment, one that I'm never going to forget. It's part of me, it's part of my career. It's good for me, it's good for baseball. Every time that someone mentions the two grand slams in one inning, it's fun but it's still hard to believe. It's a great feeling for me that people remember.
FT: Ha! A lot of people ask me, 'How could they have left that guy on the mound and not taken him out?' Let me tell you the truth: he was very nasty that night. The only guy who hit him hard, twice, that inning was me. Most of the time, the guys hit slow ground balls, or were jammed, or had slow hits to right field — something like that — and I was the only guy who hit the ball hard twice in that inning. Everybody who remembers Chan Ho Park in those days, he threw pretty hard. He was a good pitcher.
Q: Another guy you played with on the Cardinals, Rick Ankiel, also had a great comeback as a hitter after coming up as a pitcher. What did you think of Ankiel's season?
FT: Oh my God, I think what Rick Ankiel did, that's amazing. I give him my vote for the things that he did. He was a pitcher when I was in St. Louis, but he also was a pretty good hitter. But to convert yourself from pitcher to hitter, that's amazing. Especially at the big-league level, especially with power. I've heard of a couple guys doing that in the minors. But that's unbelievable. I give him my vote.
Q: Since you ended your season injured, do you think if you come back and play 150 games and hit 30 home runs next year, you can be eligible to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award again?
FT: That's the greatest question [laughs] but I cannot answer about the future. Only God can answer to the future. I'm going to keep doing my job and work hard to be better player, to put more numbers up, and help my teammates. If it happens, it happens. I'm not considering myself a power hitter, a 30-40 homer guy, but I consider myself a line-drive hitter, and if I hit home runs, great. I want to work more on hitting the ball to right field and into the gaps. Line drive.
Q: Is it OK with you that there's no team in Montreal anymore? Or does baseball miss the Expos?
FT: I think my personal answer for that is, I don't miss the Expos, no. In Montreal, they don't like baseball. When I was there, they lost the feeling for baseball. If you don't like something, you don't deserve it. Baseball is a great game and you've got to respect this game every day. It's one of the hardest games, one of the hardest sports in the whole world and you've got to be honored to watch a baseball game. It's such a hard game to play. You've got to have feelings for it.