6/11/2013 9:55 P.M. ET
Braves announce 'Tribute for Heroes' finalists
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- Three Braves fans are among the finalists in the "Tribute for Heroes" campaign that Major League Baseball and 'People' magazine have organized. Along with recognizing veterans and military service members, the initiative builds upon both the commitment of MLB and People Magazine to honor our country's heroes.
Fans are encouraged to visit TributeForHeroes.com to view the full list of finalists and to vote on their favorite stories through June 30. One winner from each of MLB's 30 clubs will participate in All-Star Week and be recognized during the pregame ceremony leading up to the July 16 All-Star Game at Citi Field.
A "Tribute for Heroes" winner will be featured in the July 22 issue of People, which hits newsstands Friday, July 12th, the week of the All-Star Game.
The three veterans recognized as Braves finalists include Brian Hicks of Pike Road, Ala., Thomas Lewis of Alpharetta, Ga., and Anthony Smith of Blytheville, Ark.
Smith was pronounced dead and placed in a body bag after a rocket-propelled grenade tore through his hip and stomach and shrapnel took his arm. After a nurse realized he was alive, he remained in a coma for 62 days and then endured years of rehab and surgeries. The 46-year-old veteran now teaches Tae-Kwon Do and Mixed Martial Arts to at-risk kids in Arkansas.
Lewis shattered numerous bones when he crashed his F-16 fighter jet in the desert during a practice flight. He proved doctors wrong when he began walking and flying again. Along with being a pilot for Air Tran/Southwest, he currently devotes his time to coaching youth sports teams and working with Habitat for Humanity.
During a 2003 deployment in Iraq, Hicks suffered an injury that led to his left leg being amputated. He has since completed 35 triathlons and eight marathons. In 2012, he was awarded the USA Triathlon Comeback of the Year Award. Along with serving as a resident engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers at Maxwell Air Force Base, he mentors other disabled veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project and CAST (Christian Amputee Support Team).
Gattis almost automatic in a pinch
SAN DIEGO -- When Evan Gattis came off the bench in the ninth inning of Monday night's loss to the Padres, the odds were that he could not extend his incredible pinch-hitting exploits. But that was not what Andrelton Simmons and some of his other Braves teammates were feeling.
"You can almost feel it coming," Simmons said. "It's like when he gets up there you expect that he's going to do something special."
Gattis has certainly given his teammates reason to have an overwhelming confidence in his ability to deliver. The rookie catcher's three-run shot off right-hander Tim Stauffer in Monday's ninth inning gave him four home runs through the first eight pinch-hit at-bats of his career.
Gattis has already tied the Atlanta season record Tommy Gregg set when he hit four pinch-hit home runs in 1990. The Dodgers' Dave Hansen set the Major League record with seven in 2000. The Pirates' Craig Wilson matched that total one year later.
"It's special," Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. "You kind of think you've seen everything you're going to see in the game and then somebody like him comes along and does what he's been doing."
Gattis' latest pinch-hit home run brought the Braves within two runs in what turned into an eventual one-run loss. His three previous pinch-hit home runs had either given the Braves a lead or tied the game in the eighth inning or later.
Gattis entered Tuesday having gone 6-for-8 with four home runs, a double and a walk in nine pinch-hit appearances. The only time he did not reach base with a hit, walk or an error during this span was when he grounded out to end the sixth inning of a May 19 win against the Dodgers.
"His swing works, so you can run him in there against anybody," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You don't have to find a lefty-righty combination. If the situation dictates, [using him as a pinch-hitter] you feel good."
Gattis' success has extended beyond the pinch-hitting department. He hit .263 with 14 home runs, 37 RBIs and a .928 OPS through the first 156 at-bats of his career. His days as a regular in Atlanta's starting lineup essentially evaporated when Brian McCann and Heyward returned from lengthy disabled list stints in May.
But despite recording just 41 at-bats in the 24 games that have followed, Gattis still entered Tuesday tied with Justin Upton for the team lead in home runs. His RBI total ranked second to Freddie Freeman's team-leading 43.
Many Braves fans have been campaigning for him to gain an All-Star selection or a spot in the Home Run Derby. Mets third baseman David Wright has been selected the captain of the National League's Home Run Derby squad. He will be responsible for selecting the Senior Circuit's other three participants.
Heyward busting out of slump in big way
SAN DIEGO -- Jason Heyward did not panic when he hit .167 with two extra-base hits in the first 14 games he played after returning from a nearly month-long stint on the disabled list. He remained confident that he would turn things around in the manner that he has over the course of the past week.
Coming off of Monday night's multihomer performance, Heyward entered Tuesday having hit .412 with a 1.195 OPS in his previous seven games. During this short stretch, he raised his batting average from .142 to .207.
Heyward hit .121 with a .519 OPS in the 17 games he played before undergoing an emergency appendectomy on April 22. After spending nearly a full month on the disabled list, it just took him a couple weeks to get comfortable again.
"I've just had better timing," Heyward said. "The more your timing is better, the better swings you're going to take. It's kind of a trickle-down effect. You get better pitches to hit and you don't miss those. Then you don't give pitchers a chance to get you out."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.