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Braves' Gattis reaching folk hero status

May 19, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis (24) sits in the dugout in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

May 19, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis (24) sits in the dugout in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Gattis' second trip to New York will certainly be different than his first.

In fact, it illustrates just how much the improbable rookie slugger's life has changed.

"I was out of money," Gattis said. "I had to ask people, 'Are you done with that food?' I know I'll eat a lot better this time."

Life is good now for the 26-year-old Texas native, who will certainly be asked repeatedly by the New York media about his made-for-TV story while the Braves play a weekend series against the Mets.

Gattis gave up baseball for nearly four years after high school, spending a brief time in rehab and later living on the road as he traveled the country doing a variety of menial jobs.

"He spent three years living in a van," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Gattis hit a two-out pinch-hit homer to send Tuesday's game with the Twins into extra innings. "I don't think a baseball game is going to faze him."

That homer came after Gattis had connected for a two-run pinch shot on Saturday that brought the Braves back for a victory over the Dodgers and he connected for a grand slam against the Twins on Wednesday in his first start behind the plate since May 5.

"He's a legend," Gonzalez said afterwards.

After the grand slam, the theme from "The Natural" played at Turner Field.

Remember Ray Hobbs? Gattis' story may seem even more like fiction.

A non-roster invitee to spring training with no proven defensive position, he made the team thanks to Brian McCann's absence following shoulder surgery and has been winning an enthusiastic fan following ever since.

Gattis leads all major league rookies with 10 homers and 27 RBIs. And he has definitely shown a flare for the dramatic.

He homered in his first major league game while his proud father was being interviewed on TV and his three homers as a pinch-hitter ties him for the third-most ever in a season by a Brave.

"I can't believe everything that has happened," Gattis said. "Sometimes it seems like it must be a dream."

The Braves took a chance on Gattis in 2010, using a 23rd-round draft choice to take him out of a small Texas college. Three years later, he's a folk hero.

"I think what I've been through has helped me," Gattis said. "I guess I've got a little bit different perspective on some things."

With McCann back, Gattis likely won't catch any of the weekend games against the Mets, but he will serve as the designated hitter for the two interleague games in Toronto that follow.

Wednesday's start behind the plate was his first since McCann returned from shoulder surgery on May 6. But he had started six games in left field and excelled as a pinch hitter.

After Gattis' grand slam on a 3-and-0 pitch, Gonzalez even mentioned the rookie alongside Detroit triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

"That's the second time this year I've seen a 3-0 grand slam the opposite way for a right-handed hitter, Cabrera in Detroit and then Gattis here," the manager said. "We are not making any comparisons by any means. But that's the sign of a good hitter where he lets the ball travel and has enough juice to hit it to the opposite field."

Eventually, the Braves will have to make a roster decision. It is tough to carry three catchers and only 11 pitchers.

But Gonzalez isn't about to send Gattis down.

"He's staying right here," the manager said. "He's not going anywhere."

The rookie with the unlikely story has definitely earned his spot.

"I'm just riding it out," Gattis said. "I'm not sure it's all sunk in yet. But I'm definitely having the time of my life."

Notes: RHP Kris Medlen (1-5, 3.02) will start the opener of the Mets series tonight, followed by LHP Mike Minor (5-2, 2.78) and RHP Julio Teheran (3-1, 3.99). ... The three Mets starters are a combined 2-15. ... The Braves, who lead the National League East, have played the fewest home games in the National League, but own the best winning percentage with a 15-5 record. ... On the road, the Braves are 13-13, but have lost five of their past six games. ... CF B.J. Upton's homer on Wednesday was his first at home since April 6 and his first overall since April 23.