The Glory of his Past- Fernando Tatis

    VERO BEACH, Fla- As Fernando Tatis arrived at his locker after his first workout, he was surrounded by a media horde of at leasr 10 reporters, bearing notebooks and tape recorders to chronicle his every word. It was a gathering befitting a star of major proportions but this was for a non-roster invitee with only a minor league contract.

     There was a Tatis of immensity. Who can forget April 23, 1999 when, wearing a Cardinal uniform, he came to home plate against the Dodgers' Chan Ho Park with the bases loaded in the third inning. He launched a home run into the seats. Later that inning, Cards still batting, Park still pitching, the sacks were juiced again when he came up. Another ball soared into the blue seats.

  One inning, two grand slams, eight runs batted in. Nobody had ever done that in the big leagues before and nobody else has done it since. He's got two spots in the record book all his own.

  That whole year was splendid for him. He finished witrh 34 home runs and 107 RBI. He even stole 21 bases. He had become one of the more respected hitters in the game.

  After that, though, there was a torrent of troubles. First, a torn thigh muscle that put him down. Then came a wave of knee injuries that finally resulted in surgery. In that time, he was traded to the Expos, who never saw the player they had envisioned receiving. Finally, after 2003, a year in which he managed only 53 games hitting a paltry .194 with two home runs, he said, "Enough," and left the game.

  "I was playing hurt all the time," he recounts now. "It was hard, very hard. So, I went home to my family in the Dominican Republic."

For two years, he stayed around the house, never lifting a bat, except to play with the kids. However, the oldest of his five children, Fernando III (he himself is actually a Junior), begged his padre to return to the field so he could see him play. So, to please the eight-year-old as much as anything, he returned to the diamond.

  And that, he says, echoing himself, was also, "Hard, very hard."

  He joined the Orioles only to discover, "They had Melvin Mora, a third baseman they like a lot."  Thus, he not only went down to the minors (Ottawa in the International League) but began learning other positions. A little first, some second, a dab of outfielding.

He hit well enough to make it up to Baltimore where he batted .250 with two homers. He was cast adrift again to finally sign this deal with the Dodgers because , he says, he likes their chances to go deep into the post-season.

  First, though, he's got to make the team. And in an intra-squad game Wednesday, he came up against Mike Megrew with two one. On a 3-1 count, he got a fast ball he could turn on and ripped a shot that carried over the fence in left onto the Holman Stadium berm.

  It was, of course, only a a camp game annd he'll have to continue to impress. And  those in attendance were nodding and saying, "He still can hit."  1999 will never come again but for a moment it was the Tatiis that Dodger fans remembered enough that they had to look out on the mound to see if it was Chan Ho standing there. 

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