Second time around for Fernando Tatis
Tatis making an impact nine years after record-setting inning
In the nearly two centuries since the early developmental stages of this marvelous, mysterious sport of baseball, a fistful of players and teams have contributed remarkable feats to its landscape, a sea of miraculous moments that make up the rich tapestry of the game.
One of those moments belongs to journeyman Fernando Tatis. Never before or since, has there been a game -- no, make that an inning -- like the one Tatis experienced on April 23, 1999.
He was with the St. Louis Cardinals then, in Los Angeles for a game against the Dodgers, batting cleanup behind home-run king Mark McGwire. The Dodgers were leading 2-0 in the third inning when Tatis came up with the bases loaded and hit a grand slam against Dodgers starter Chan Ho Park.
There's nothing unusual about that. There have been thousands of slams hit in the history of the game. What made this one unique was that, later in that same inning, Tatis came to bat again with the bases loaded, with Park still pitching, and hit another grand slam.
Two grand slams and eight RBIs in one inning are both Major League records and something unlikely to be repeated, unless you ask Tatis.
"It could happen again," he said. "You never know. I never thought I'd do it and I did it. Somebody else could someday."
Tatis was a Mets afterthought this year, an early-season callup when injuries depleted New York's lineup. But he's been at the center of the team's recovery, part of a group of irregulars who delivered vital hits and helped the Mets climb back into the National League East race. He had four home runs in two months, matching his Major League total from 2003-06 and doubling the number he had in one magical inning in 1999.
Nine years after the fact, Tatis remembers the pitches he hit as if Park had just thrown them.
"The first one was a 2-0 fastball," he said. "The second one, he hung a 3-2 slider. You hit one grand slam, it's a good week. You hit two, it's amazing and a great feeling. You can't describe how good it felt. It was history, not only for me but for baseball."
Tatis hit 34 homers and drove in 107 runs that season. Then injuries impacted what seemed to be a promising career. He had a so-so season in 2000 and then was traded to Montreal. Injuries cost him 121 games in 2001. There were long stints on the DL because of knee, groin and chest injuries over the next three seasons.
Released by the Expos, Tatis went to Spring Training with Tampa Bay in 2004 but was released and did not play ball for the next two years.
"It took two years for me to heal and be perfect," he said. "It was very tough."
At home for those two years, Tatis avoided baseball.
"I did not even watch a game," he said. "I had no plans to play again."
His two sons, ages 8 and 9, kept after him, though.
"They wanted to see me play," Tatis said. "In my heart, I know I am a player. I promised to try and go back. I put the feeling in my heart one more time."
Tentatively at first, Tatis began working out. Baltimore was impressed enough to give him a Minor League contract, and he played 28 games with the Orioles in 2006. Released again, he signed on briefly with the Dodgers and then moved to the Mets in 2007. Mets GM Omar Minaya signed him to his first pro contract with Texas in 1993.
Tatis spent last year with the Mets Triple-A affiliate at New Orleans where there was some serendipity about his season. That's because one of the pitchers on the Zephyrs staff was an old pal -- Chan Ho Park.
"Chan's a good guy," Tatis said. "But we never talked about the two grand slams. Never."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.