�Mam�, puedes contarme la historia de mi pap� y el bate de b�isbol?
How many times did he ask? How often did he need to hear the story? So many nights the little boy cuddled up to his mother in bed and begged her to tell him about his father and the baseball bat. When she hesitated, the boy anxiously implored her, "Por favor, por favor, Mam�." Overwhelmed by his pleading, Yudelca Tatis inevitably gazed at her son, Fernando, and launched into the bedtime story she had told him a hundred times before.
She told him about the afternoon when he was two days old and she carried him home from the hospital and put him into his crib. His father entered the room with a proud smile and a deep, throaty laugh. He laid a small wooden bat diagonally across his son's tiny chest and said, "God bless you, Fernandito; someday you will be a baseball player just like your father." The mother was expert at embellishing the story with other details about the father, the happy ones, until her son was sound asleep and dreaming of fulfilling the prophecy set out for him.
For 17 years that was about all Fernando Tatis Jr. knew about his father. At first, at the end of each baseball season, the father returned to their home in San Pedro de Macor�s, in the Dominican Republic. But when Fernandito was five years old, the father stopped coming back.
Still, the boy grew up desperately wanting to be his father's son, and the story of the baseball bat would be enough to determine his career path. "Doesn't every little boy want to be just like his dad?" says Fernando Jr., the St. Louis Cardinals' third baseman, who has been one of the surprise hitting sensations of the early season. "I didn't know him, but he was still my idol. I wanted his dream to become reality for me. I wanted to become famous at the ballpark."
On Sunday, Tatis was tied for seventh in the National League in home runs, with 14, and RBIs, with 44, and was tied for eighth in runs, with 41. He is demonstrating the instincts and the arm to someday become a Gold Glove third baseman. The 24-year-old, who was sent from the Texas Rangers, along with pitcher Darren Oliver and outfielder Mark Little, to the Cardinals at last year's trade deadline in a deal for pitcher Todd Stottlemyre and shortstop Royce Clayton, is setting off a '90s version of Fernandomania in St. Louis.
At 5'10" and 170 pounds, Tatis doesn't look like a typical slugger, but he compensates for his modest size with a chiseled upper body, strong hands, and hitting tips he picked up from Sammy Sosa during shared off-season batting practices in the Dominican Republic. Tatis swings as hard as any hitter in the majors, yet he insists he is following teammate Mark McGwire's philosophy of not trying to hit homers but simply waiting for a good pitch to drive. "Last year you could throw the ball away from him and he wasn't getting out to that pitch," says Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Jason Kendall. "But now he's covering more of the plate, and he's more patient."
Says Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, "Young players have a tendency to be erratic, all highs and lows, but Fernando's growing up in a hurry. He's one of those guys who has to try not to overswing, because the less he tries to hit home runs, the more he's going to hit."
On April 23 at Dodger Stadium, Tatis hit two home runs in the time it takes some people to floss their teeth. He borrowed teammate Eric Davis's bat that night, and in the third inning, against Chan Ho Park, Tatis launched a pair of grand slams, the first two of his pro career. McGwire, who at that time didn't have eight RBIs, joked that you would "have a better chance of winning the lottery" than of hitting two slams in a single inning.
Indeed, Tatis's feat had not occurred in 124 seasons of baseball. In this century only four teams have hit two grand slams in an inning, and no Cardinal had ever hit two homers in one inning. "I still think about it every day, and a smile comes to my face," Tatis says. "It's just my third year, and I already have a great record."