The Redemption Tour by Fernando Tatis Jr. arrives at Yankee Stadium

Fernando Tatis Jr. has been favoring pink accessories to highlight their uniform since their major league debut in 2019. Whether it’s shoelaces, sweatbands, belt, headband or cleats, something pink is usually on display. It’s a sign to his mother, as he plays, that she’s always on his mind.

On Saturday night in San Diego, it was a pink glove that stood out in the fourth inning as he galloped across the right-field grass and, body fully extended, raised his hand at the last second to launch a rocket into the night. air. With two in and two out, Boston’s Triston Casas drilled a whooping drive toward the outfield wall with an off-speed of 108 miles per hour. He was going over Tatis’s head… until he stopped.

In many ways, with his bat, his glove and his celebrations, Tatis is back in business as usual, a 24-year-old superstar whose career has spiraled out of control in more ways than one.

“It’s every day now,” said coach Bob Melvin, marveling at Tatis and his penchant for breathtaking play. “Give him a few reps and he can play any position in any sport.”

After his re-entry into the sport on April 20 following two surgeries and an 80-game suspension for a positive steroid test, Tatis had not played in a Major League Baseball game in over a year. The expectations for his return were immense, but so were the questions.

How diluted can your game be after more than a year away? Would his surgically repaired left shoulder, which he had dislocated several times in 2021, diminish his ability at the plate? Has a second operation on the right wrist he fractured in a motorcycle accident in the Dominican Republic finally worked out?

Then came the extra-baggage questions: after the public shaming that came with a positive test for clostebol, an anabolic steroid, and his subsequent punishment, how would Tatis handle the spotlight during his comeback? And had he sufficiently repaired the broken trust with his teammates?

“It wasn’t going to be easy,” said Tatis during a conversation at the Padres’ home last weekend. “This is probably the hardest game in the world. I got ready. There is a mental routine, a physical routine. But, you know, I’m just trying to be ready at all times.

As the Padres travel to Yankee Stadium this weekend and Tatis faces perhaps his severest test in terms of public backlash, the biggest gamble in Padres history — a 14-year, $340 million contract awarded to Tatis after just 143 games of the major leagues – appears to be back on track to pay dividends. The young star once again rises to the occasion and people around the priests are talking about her newfound grace and humility.

“The responsibility was definitely there for him,” said Joe Musgrove, San Diego’s starting pitcher. “And he started about 80 games ago. After the suspension he went on a low for a few weeks and that was understandable. But he did a good job putting that behind him. He is mending the fences with the players, staff and fans. He forgave himself and got over his mistakes.

“Some mistakes you can’t fix. Some you can. This one, he can.

Musgrove’s tone, when talking about Tatis’ behavior since his suspension, was very different than the last two seasons, as tensions routinely ran high between Tatis, his teammates and the Padres coaching staff. The bickering and questions about Tatis’ maturity have, for the time being at least, subsided as he has stayed out of trouble and worked to prepare for his return.

Much of that preparation, Tatis said, involved the mental side of his game. He knew the noise would be thunderous, from opponents and rival fans who would be looking for any weakness they could find. He spent significant time over the winter “having good baseball conversations with good baseball guys,” he said. “I feel like I put it all together.”

Conversations began, according to Tatis, with his father, Fernando Tatis Sr., who competed in the main championships from 1997 to 2010. At home, in the Dominican Republic, Tatis Jr. he also spoke with mentors like Wilton Veras, who played briefly for the Red Sox, and his friend Robinson Canó, the former major league star who was twice suspended for performance-enhancing drugs.

“It’s always good to talk baseball with that guy,” Tatis said of Canó. “And more guys are on the list, but if I started mentioning them all, I probably wouldn’t finish today.”

The Padres brought Tatis to their FanFest in early February specifically to tick an early box: his re-entry into public life. It was a friendly local crowd at Petco Park, but it served its purpose. Even though the suspension wasn’t complete, it allowed him to get out of the area and focus entirely on baseball going forward.

Melvin, who has been without Tatis for his first 182 games as head coach of the Padres, was thrilled to put the young star in a lineup.

“It was actually a day of celebration for both of us,” said Melvin. “He was watching from the sidelines for so long. And really, he was one of the reasons I came here.

Tatis, who said hitting would be the hardest thing about his comeback, went 0-5 on base in his first game back but had at least one hit in each of his next nine games. Overall, he hit . 267 with seven home runs through Tuesday, falling short of his peak standards but showing regular flashes of his former self.

On the same night as his sensational catch against Boston, Tatis drilled a Chris Sale slider 440 feet into the night, giving him home runs in back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two years. Four nights earlier, showing off his newfound comfort in the outfield, he undid a perfect hit from right field at 96.8 mph – on the fly – to hit Kansas City’s Vinnie Pasquantino, who was trying to go from first to third in a single.

Tatis, who came into the majors as an error-prone but exciting shortstop, is the league’s only outfielder this season with two assists that traveled 90 mph or faster. In Minnesota, on May 10, he ousted Carlos Correa at home plate in a 100-mph laser.

“It’s getting hot,” said Boston manager Alex Cora, who noted that his Red Sox “have seen three of the most complete players in the game in the last three weeks” in Tatis, Ronald Acuña Jr. from Atlanta and Julio Rodríguez from Seattle.

Tatis’s inclusion in such a group was expected after he finished fourth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2020 and third in 2021. amid countless doubts about his future. demonstrated how many fences Tatis has mended.

“Overall, I don’t know how anyone could handle it so quickly and do a better job than him,” Melvin said of Tatis’s return to prominence.

The audience’s reaction, though harsh at times, did not anger Tatis.

When he hit a home run during a Class AAA rehab assignment in early April, the pitcher he fired, Giants minor leaguer Kade McClure, responded by tweeting: “cheater hits a homerun on a rehab assignment during a steroid suspension”. Tatis shrugged at the deleted message. He said he expected reactions like that and he’s going to keep playing and having fun.

True to his word, when fans at Wrigley Field serenaded him with chants of “He’s on steroids!” Tatis disarmed them with a playful shimmy.

“I wouldn’t say that’s how I would have done it,” said center fielder Trent Grisham. “But smiles often elicit diffuse hostility.”

Added Melvin: “He’s the best artist, right? As far as baseball is concerned.

Another Tatis adviser was teammate Nelson Cruz, who has the prospect of returning from his own 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs in 2013. Be yourself, Cruz advised Tatis, and just go play.

That’s what Tatis did early in his career, when his talent helped him achieve celebrity status so quickly that he was second only to the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts in jersey sales during the 2021 season. whether Tatis can regain that level of popularity, but in just over a month he seems to be headed in the right direction.

“I don’t want to be selfish,” he said when asked about an early self-assessment of his game. “Obviously it’s going well. But I know I have a lot more room to go. I feel like I’m still not at my best.”

Reactions to his first trip to Dodger Stadium this month have been noticeably muted — hostility remains mostly aimed at Padres infielder Manny Machado — but Tatis smiled when asked to bring forward this weekend’s visit to Yankee Stadium.

“This will be good,” he said. “We’ll see. New York. The good thing is there’s going to be a lot of Dominicans out there. So that’s on the positive side. But it’s still New York.”

He chuckled as he spoke, the various pink paraphernalia practically glowing behind him from his closet. A 24-year-old who once again has his career ahead of him and is eager to experience what Yankee Stadium has to offer.

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