"All the years we were separated, I knew I'd made a terrible mistake and that I still loved my son," the father says. "I don't ever expect him to say, 'I love my daddy,' I just hope he doesn't hate me in his soul."
Fernando Jr., who now has a six-month-old son, also named Fernando, with his wife, Mar�a, back in San Pedro de Macor�s, acknowledges that he has never asked his father to explain his departure, and he has no plans to do so. "I think that if I really knew what happened, I'm afraid that I might get mad that he never called me or tried to find me," he says. "It is better not to know."
When Fernando Jr. began his '99 spring training in a 5-for-28 slump, with nine strikeouts and no extra-base hits, he did not consult his father, as many baseball sons might have done. He sought help instead from an old family friend. The Cardinals' new hitting coach this season is Mike Easier. The instructor told his young pupil to stop trying to hit the ball out of the stadium and to quiet his body, relax his hands and concentrate on reading the pitch. Tatis finished the exhibition season with 16 hits in his last 48 at bats, including five homers.
"I believe in divine providence, and it's fate that we're here together," says Easier, an ordained Baptist minister. "I look at Fernando like a favorite nephew who has turned his scars into stars. I think there is a little part of both of us that wants him to succeed for his daddy."