brian reinke

ESSAY: The search for Evan Gattis, and the journey of journalism

In May 2013 I was assigned to tell the story of Atlanta Braves’ slugger Evan Gattis. It took me on a two-day journey across the state of Texas.

This is Part 1 of the story of that journey. To read the entire story on a single page, CLICK HERE.



I woke up to the sound of muffled radio static on the alarm clock in my hotel room. I had not bothered to find a station before I went to sleep the previous night; I was exhausted, and I doubted I would miss much by scanning the AM dial for Abilene, Texas’ finest. Plus, I knew I would not be listening for very long when I awoke.

Instead, I did the first thing I could think of: reach over and hit the button on top of the radio.


I did not intend to go back to sleep, of course. I couldn’t. I was up for a reason: to drive ten hours, in one day, to interview two people, both of whom were integral to the life of Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis. A month earlier, Gattis made the Braves’ Opening Day roster as a 26-year-old rookie. Two weeks after that, he was named National League Rookie of the Month.

But that was not what sent me to Texas. I had arrived in America’s second-largest state to shine the spotlight on Gattis’ other claim to fame, the story that had captivated Braves fans in Atlanta and baseball fans across the country. After completing high school and committing to Texas A&M as a highly-touted prospect, Gattis left the game and did not return for half a decade. In the meantime, he traveled the state and the country, working odd jobs at golf courses, ski resorts, and even Yellowstone National Park. He followed a spiritual advisor to New Mexico, and he lived like a nomad, on a search for purpose and identity. Gattis had gone on a journey, to be sure, and came out of it a Major League baseball player.

How fitting, then, that I would have to take a journey of my own to properly tell his story.

I got up out of bed in that Abilene hotel room and took a shower. When I got out, I heard those muffled AM sounds again. I walked over, looked at the clock on the radio, and saw a time I generally only saw during the daytime.


I wanted to hit Snooze again. But not this time. It was time to hit the road.


A day earlier I had awoken at technically the exact same time. In this case I had gotten up at 5:44, but I was still on the Eastern Time Zone, at my apartment in Atlanta preparing to leave for the airport. This in itself felt like a big step. My trip to Texas was the culmination of roughly a month’s worth of planning – and nearly an equal amount of frustration – with Gattis’ story.

The news managers at my TV station, Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA-TV, had decided back in April they wanted me to do an in-depth story about Gattis. It was a no-brainer, really; they had heard about Gattis’ improbable journey, watched his hot start for the Braves, and believed his story would be great for our big ratings period in May. I reached out to the Braves’ media relations team multiple times but did not hear back; finally I decided to meet Gattis myself, heading to the clubhouse for post-game interviews and introducing myself to the slugger at his locker. I told him we wanted to tell his story and even head to Texas to talk with his dad Jo, who played a huge role in Gattis’ growth both personally and professionally. Gattis gave the OK and simply asked that we go through the Braves’ media relations folks to reach his father.

Done, I said.

Over the next few weeks I sent roughly a dozen e-mails to the Braves’ PR person assigned to these types of requests. I found I could not even secure an interview with Gattis, let alone his dad. The Braves were only home for a week in late April, and numerous national media outlets had come knocking with a similar request to interview the catcher, who by this point had developed a Jack Bauer/Chuck Norris-like mystique among the team’s fans. I would have to wait until their next homestand, I was told. And what of Gattis’ dad? I heard very little.

Finally, my managers and I got tired of waiting. We wanted to tell Gattis’ story, and we no longer wanted to delay until the Braves’ media folks got around to us. “Head down to Dallas,” I was told. “Set up whatever interviews you can, and we’ll make it work.”

I spent last Monday and Tuesday making calls and developing contacts with people who had watched Gattis grow. I called his youth coach in Dallas and his college coach in Odessa; they jumped at the chance to talk about someone for whom they held great admiration. I connected with the Texas-based scout who recommended Gattis to the Braves; I got a hold of the machine shop owner who briefly hired Gattis during his time away from the game.

I even found his spiritual advisor in New Mexico. She declined my request.


ESSAY: The search for Evan Gattis, and the journey of journalism — Part 2

In May 2013 I was assigned to tell the story of Atlanta Braves’ slugger Evan Gattis. It took me on a two-day journey across the state of Texas.

This is Part 2 of the story of that journey. To read Part 1, CLICK HERE. To read the entire story on a single page, CLICK HERE.


“I’d like to book a room for the night.”

Several hours after interviewing Hernandez and Turner, I was back at the Coppell West field, trying to make a hotel reservation from the driver’s seat of my rented Chevy Sonic. I had already driven for nearly two hours that afternoon, making stops at the aforementioned mechanics shop and golf course before popping back to the field to get footage of Tigers practice. Now I was preparing for the big drive: five hours from Dallas to Odessa, Texas, where Gattis returned to baseball after his time away from the game.

At least, I thought I was heading to Odessa.

But when I made my request to the operator at the hotel, she responded as follows:

“All right, sir. A room with one king-size bed is $309 a night.”

I quickly checked the number to make sure I hadn’t accidentally dialed the Holiday Inn in midtown Manhattan.

Nope, this was Odessa.

“What was that number again?” I asked.

“Three-oh-nine,” the operator responded, with genuine cheer that indicated she perhaps was not aware of why anyone would be surprised by this.

Hernandez was not surprised. “Yeah, Odessa is big with oil guys. You can’t get a hotel room there for less than $300 a night.”

I had to re-route. Unfortunately, the nearest city on my way to Odessa was Abilene, which sported a variety of two-star hotels off Interstate-20 but would also leave me 2 ½ hours from Odessa.

I did the mental math in my head. Suddenly I was facing a potential nine hours of driving the next day – on top of the three hours ahead of me on this day.

What could I do? I rolled with it.


ESSAY: The search for Evan Gattis, and the journey of journalism — Part 3

In May 2013 I was assigned to tell the story of Atlanta Braves’ slugger Evan Gattis. It took me on a two-day journey across the state of Texas.

This is Part 3 of the story of that journey. To read Part 1, CLICK HERE. To read Part 2, CLICK HERE. To read the entire story on a single page, CLICK HERE.


Ten hours of driving. Zero minutes of music.

These were my stats as I zoomed along I-20 on a 360-mile journey from Odessa back to Dallas. Somewhere in the 3 PM hour, I hit double digits in driving hours for the trip, and I had not yet listened to a single song.

I love music, of course, but I probably love it too much for a trip like this. I am an unabashed sing-along-in-the-car guy, and I will rock out in the driver’s seat under the right conditions.

But rocking out requires energy. I needed to conserve mine.

I decided early in the trip to take a page from the baseball lifers around me and remain even-keeled throughout. I already did not plan on getting much sleep, and if I fed off adrenaline, I reasoned, I would eventually crash hard at an inopportune moment. I needed to be on top of my game, from Wednesday’s touchdown at Dallas-Fort Worth to Friday’s departure back to Atlanta.

So, instead of bobbing my head to my favorite songs, I listened to podcasts. Instead of gulping down drinks with caffeine, I sipped on bottled water and green tea. And when I felt the occasional dip in appetite or energy, I sucked a few Tic-Tacs.

Quite the life, this road-tripping business.

I thought back to my off-camera conversation with Hernandez and Gerald Turner. We talked about Turner’s job as a scout for the Braves, and I asked him about his work schedule.

“From January to now,” Turner said, “I have maybe had six days off.”

“And those were probably days it rained,” Hernandez joked.

I posited to Turner that he probably tries to do whatever he can during these months to keep a semblance of normalcy and routine in his daily life. Turner quickly shook his head.

“There’s nothing you can do, man,” he said. “You’re traveling all over the place, you don’t know what the weather’s gonna be, and you don’t know when you might have to turn around and drive all the way across the state.”

A day later, Turner’s answer still surprised me. I could not imagine going months at a time without any kind of structure to my life. I thought of the discipline required to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle while still maintaining one’s health and sanity. I also wondered if the opposite was true: perhaps someone like Turner thrives off unpredictability and lack of structure. After all, he spends his life trying to predict the future, scouting high school and college athletes for a Major League Baseball team. Maybe that lifestyle has seduced him, in a way.