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Major League Baseball needs Fernando Tatis Jr.’s brilliance, not his apology

If baseball wants to expand and diversify its fan base, it should let the kids play

When you make a mistake, you apologize, deal with the consequences and criticism to come, and don’t do it again. That’s what parents try and teach their children, and it’s what I repeatedly tell my two boys.

It’s a tough, necessary lesson in life.

Except when it’s not.

Here’s my message to Fernando Tatis Jr., the young Dominican superstar in the making for the San Diego Padres: Don’t apologize for your excellence. In fact, own it. Unapologetically. Baseball’s unwritten rules be damned.

Tatis Jr. did nothing wrong. Yet he endured the criticism.

If Philadelphia Phillies superstar Bryce Harper doesn’t have to apologize for his signature bat flips, Tatis certainly doesn’t for doing his job.

Hitting a grand slam is cause for celebration and adulation. But Tatis found out on Monday night against the Texas Rangers that that’s not always the case.

The 21-year-old phenom is the future of Major League Baseball. Or at least he should be. He’s the kind of charismatic talent the MLB should build its brand around. Tatis, the Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto and the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., among a few select others, should be battling for the title of best player in the National League for the next decade. If MLB does this right, it’s their jerseys kids will be wearing at little league ballparks all over the country.

But instead of lauding his stats this season (.310 batting average, 11 home runs, 28 RBIs and 1.094 on-base plus slugging heading into Wednesday’s games), Tatis was in the headlines this week for swinging at a 3-0 pitch, and hitting a grand slam, when the Padres were already up by seven runs in the eighth inning Monday. That drew the ire of Rangers manager Chris Woodward and Tatis’ own manager, Jayce Tingler.

“I’ve been in this game since I was a kid,“ Tatis, the son of 11-year major league veteran Fernando Tatis, told reporters after the game. “I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. Those experiences, you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”

And that is when baseball fans lose out. Nobody wants to see Tatis walk with the bases loaded or lose his aggressiveness at the plate.

Part of what makes him great is his swagger. Baseball needs his brilliance. Not his apology.

Don’t tell Tatis what he can’t do. Or that he’s not respecting the game. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this argument about Latino players in MLB. For what it’s worth, old-school and new-school baseball players, from Reggie Jackson to Johnny Bench to current big leaguers, are on Tatis’ side.

In the past few seasons, we’ve heard a lot about how baseball is trying to appeal to its young, Black and Latino fan base. Want to know how it can make that happen? Promote Tatis Jr., Soto, Acuna, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson (who’s had his own bat flip bench-clearing controversy), New York Yankee Aaron Judge and all its Black and brown star players.

Let them play the game with swagger and fun and bat flips. Let them swing on 3-0 counts. And let them do it unapologetically.

Letting the kids play (remember that marketing campaign, MLB?) would go a long way in getting youths to watch and play the sport. Go to any little league park in the country, and see how many young Black and brown kids are playing baseball. As a little league mom for the past seven years, I can tell you it’s not many.

Whether it’s a Hollywood television set or a stage on Broadway or the baseball diamond, representation matters.

When MLB celebrates its diversity with the centennial anniversary of the Negro Leagues this week, and when it honors Jackie Robinson Day on Aug. 28, baseball pays tribute to the sport’s history.

But to appreciate its future, let the kids play. It’s time to heed that message and grow the sport. Unapologetically. Because the kids at home and little league fields everywhere are watching the next generation of superstars.

Anna Gramling is an associate editor for Andscape's culture team. When she isn't running around with her two boys, she schedules her life around Astros baseball while hoping a time machine is invented so she can return to the 1980s.