Padres' Peter Seidler on Fernando Tatis Jr.: 'I believe in him'

PHOENIX -- Fernando Tatis Jr. met with his boss, San Diego Padres chairman Peter Seidler, about a week after drawing his steroid-related, industry-rattling suspension. It started off poorly -- and Seidler interpreted that as a positive sign.

"I could see in his body language how bad he felt," Seidler told ESPN in a sit-down interview on Thursday. "Some humans, when this happens, they don't feel bad. They feel like they're the victim in some way. Fernando owned it. He felt bad because he knew he let people down. And when we started talking -- he loosened up at some points -- we talked about how, 'This is a big one, but people bounce back from these things.' And I knew he would. I told him that. It was too fresh for him to really form a ton of thoughts, but I could see it. He knew what had happened. And he was going to figure out the best path forward."

Seidler watched Tatis' highly anticipated return to baseball up close on Thursday night, while seated directly behind the Padres' first-base dugout from Chase Field in Phoenix.

Two years earlier, in February of 2021, Seidler rewarded Tatis with a 14-year, $340 million extension, an unprecedented number for someone who at that time was only a month removed from his 22nd birthday. It was widely hailed as a "statue contract," a clear indication of the space Tatis promised to occupy within the organization's history. The news conference to celebrate it began with Seidler saying, "It's a rare chance to wake up the next day after we agreed to the contract and there's no doubt in your mind."

The following year provided plenty of reasons to doubt, first with the wrist injury that was caused by an offseason motorcycle accident, then by the positive test for an anabolic steroid just as Tatis was making his return in August, circumstances that forced him to miss all of 2022 and the first 20 games of 2023.

Seidler stressed that he was never angry.

"I think just for me, things like this don't make me mad," Seidler said. "People make their own choices in life. I work in a lot of different areas, and men in their 20s tend to make a mistake or two. I haven't met one who hasn't -- including myself, of course."

In their initial meeting, Seidler and Tatis spoke about repairing relationships with his teammates, the fans and the front office. They acknowledged the length of that process and talked about taking it one step at a time.

"I was just honest with him," Seidler said. "And I think vice versa."

Speaking Thursday, on a night when Tatis ultimately went 0-for-5 but also turned in an acrobatic catch in his new position of right field, Seidler praised Tatis for completing the necessary steps over the course of these past eight months. He addressed his teammates in a players-only meeting, during which he was widely described as being authentic and remorseful. He underwent two critical surgeries -- the left shoulder procedure the Padres recommended a year earlier, to address the subluxations that plagued his 2021 season, and a second cleanup of the injured left wrist that robbed him of the first five months of 2022 -- and engaged in more open dialogue with the Padres' front office over the ensuing offseason.

Tatis returned to San Diego for baseball activities in early January, was among the first to arrive at the Padres' spring training complex the following month and took to the outfield with noticeable vigor, despite harboring aspirations of someday returning to shortstop. It was enough to make Seidler believe Tatis, now 24, was navigating the right path.

"He's a good dude," Seidler said of Tatis. "He's respectful, he's likable, he cares about people, he loves San Diego. And for him to have let down the people of San Diego, it really hurt him. As it should have. He made a serious and regrettable mistake. Look, we're all human. We make mistakes. A lot of times it's if and how you bounce back. You know, he quietly, when nobody was looking, did a lot of things under the radar -- getting the first surgery and then the second surgery were big, getting his body ready, getting his mind ready.

"These are things that, on a gut level, I thought he would do. But you never know. He'd never been through something like this before. And for me, fast-forward to tonight -- it's the culmination of a lot of work, a lot of soul-searching, a lot of listening to the people that he does trust and getting good feedback."

Tatis accumulated 81 home runs, 52 stolen bases, a .965 OPS and 13.6 FanGraphs wins above replacement during his 273 career games from 2019 to 2021. He scored major sponsorship deals with Adidas and Gatorade, graced the cover of the popular video game "MLB: The Show" and was widely considered the next face of baseball. It all collapsed quickly, as a result of his own choices. But Seidler said he is "very optimistic about what's ahead" for Tatis.

"I trust him," he added. "I believe in him."