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For want of a church, Tatis reborn

For want of a church, Tatis reborn

NEW YORK -- The reason Fernando Tatis returned to baseball after two years out of the game, he said on Monday, had little to do with the fact that he wanted to play baseball. Sure, some part of him did miss the game. But mostly he just wanted to build a church.

His entire community in the Dominican Republic wanted to build a church, in fact, and if Tatis signed a Major League contract, he would have the money to do so. The problem was, no team particularly wanted an aging infielder with seemingly little to give.

But Tatis wanted to build a church, and so he told his family that he was going to return to the Major Leagues. This happened roughly a week before the phone rang.

It was the Orioles. They were interested. And now?

"The church is built," Tatis said. "It's beautiful, and we got it."

Tatis played one mediocre portion of the 2006 season with the Orioles before spending another year out of the Majors and hooking on with the Mets this spring. That was a part-time gig until Monday, when manager Jerry Manuel deemed Tatis his regular left fielder for the indefinite future.

The move paid immediate dividends, as Tatis smoked a triple off Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco in his first at-bat, plating Carlos Beltran with the Mets' first run. He later scored on Damion Easley's single.

Should the Mets make a trade between now and Thursday's Trade Deadline, Tatis' role might yet decrease. But Manuel isn't openly rooting for that.

"He right now is our left fielder," Manuel said. "There is no question about it."

Manuel recalled watching Tatis play when he first reported to the Mets this spring, quite a few weeks into the Grapefruit League schedule because of visa problems. Managing his half of a split squad in Kissimmee, Fla., Manuel saw Tatis step up to the plate, take a long, looping swing and pull a ground ball to the left side of the infield.

"I said then, 'Wow, it'd be difficult for this guy to be a serviceable Major League hitter,' " Manuel said. "But he has made tremendous adjustments."

The type of adjustments that have helped Tatis bat .318 with seven homers in 148 at-bats. The type that have placed him first on the team's depth chart after opening the year in Triple-A. The type that drive him to play, even now, with his church fully built and his original goal complete.

Three years ago, Tatis was calling Major League teams trying to land with anyone, anywhere. Now, he's the Mets' starting left fielder for a playoff contender.

"I can't describe that feeling," he said. "It's unbelievable."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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