Advertisement
  1. Rays

'Tatman' Ryan Roberts combines good deeds with Tampa Bay Rays play

Ryan Roberts, previously with Arizona, plays with needy children at Ryan’s House, which he helps support with “Tatman” T-shirt sales. Once, the kids showed support for him with temporary tattoos.
Published Aug. 15, 2012

Rays infielder Ryan Roberts got his first tattoo when he was 18, figuring a cross on his arm would be fitting for his family's Christian beliefs.

"I was really not planning on getting anything else," he said.

But now Roberts, 31, can't even count how many tattoos he has. They cover him from neck to toe, earning him the nickname "Tatman."

"It's crazy," he said, smiling. "I'd say more than 30."

Roberts has joked that the hours he has spent sitting in front of a tattoo artist have likely turned into years, and — yes — it still hurts. "Every time," he quipped. Each mark has its inspiration, emblazoned on his skin to help him remember experiences from his long baseball journey to starting a family.

Most noticeable are the Japanese characters on his neck that mean "family," and a phrase, "God gave us a fairy tale," around his collar, referring to his 3-year-old daughter, Hudsyn.

"Everything means something special in a way," Roberts said. "Anything significant in my life is on my body."

What he never envisioned was how his tattoos, and popular nickname, could be significant in the lives of some special children in Arizona. Roberts trademarked his Tatman logo so he could sell shirts and give the money to a charity, and he picked Ryan House in Phoenix, which gives respite care to youths with life-threatening conditions. In four months of online-only sales, $2,000 has been raised for a place Roberts has visited several times.

"It's unbelievable," Roberts said. "Those kids will change your life."

• • •

It started with a sign.

With Roberts having a breakthrough season for the Diamondbacks last year, ripping 19 home runs — including several clutch ones in their playoff run — Fox Sports Arizona did an in-game contest to have fans pick a nickname via text message.

Roberts laughs as he remembers a few strange ones, "Boxcar" and "Railroad."

"I've been called worse," he joked.

The TV flashed to a kid in the stands with a "Tatman," sign, and it stuck.

"After that, it went so crazy," Roberts said. "It just took off."

A big reason was that Roberts had rejuvenated his career. One year earlier, in mid June 2010, Roberts was sent down to Triple-A Reno after struggling in his second full big-league season. It was a humbling experience for Roberts, a Fort Worth, Texas, native and former 18th-round pick, who at times considered walking away from the game.

"I think it's a thought in everybody's mind," Roberts said. "Minor leagues are hard, man, it's not cut out for everybody."

Reno manager Brett Butler, who played 17 big-league seasons, told Roberts to stop thinking about being a home-run hitter and focus on hitting line drives. The results would come.

"He bought in," Butler said.

It paid off for Roberts, who hit some of the Diamondbacks' most memorable homers last season, including an extra-inning grand slam in their season-defining victory over the Dodgers in late September. As Roberts rounded the bases, he did an impression of Arizona manager Kirk Gibson, pumping his arms like Gibson did after hitting his legendary homer off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series.

"It was great, man, you play this game for this moment," Roberts said. "You play the game to be 'the guy' and you strive on that."

• • •

Roberts' onfield success spurred momentum for sales of his Tatman T-shirts, which cost in the $25 range and are available through Los Angeles-based Youth Monument (youthmonument.com).

Ryan House can use all the help it can get. It houses up to eight children (six respite beds and two for end-of-life care), providing comfort and activities for them and their families. Roberts and his wife, Kim, have created memories for the youths, including playing the flute and piano for them in their music room the morning he was traded from Arizona to Tampa Bay on July 25. Roberts, having been designated for assignment, filled a need for the Rays at second and third base.

"We were very sad to see him go," Ryan House public relations director Nancy Flores said.

Roberts had joined the kids in mid June for an adaptive baseball game, using bases that are bigger and flatter to make them accessible to wheelchairs. He spent two hours there, hit the ball for them and wheeled them around the diamond.

"It was so funny, after the baseball game, some of our kids showed up with temporary tattoo sleeves," Flores said. "They knew he had a bunch of tattoos and wanted to show their support."

• • •

Roberts' tattoos are diverse, both in color and type.

There are sayings, such as "Only God Can Judge Me" (on his stomach) and "Only the Strong Survive" (on his left arm). There are some tribal markings, as well as a playing card with the Sacred Heart and dice (on his right arm).

"I'm not a card shark, but I just think it's cool," he said.

Olmy Rosenstock, based out of the Oakland area, does most of Roberts' work, often coming to his Arizona home and inking him there. Rosenstock's clients include several major leaguers, including Prince Fielder, and he even did Kim's tattoo sleeve.

Roberts said he could add to his collection, with a baby boy, Lyric, due in September, a potential inspiration. "There's always room," he said.

Roberts recently went as far as suggesting to manager Joe Maddon that, if the Rays make the World Series, Maddon would get his first tattoo.

Smiled Maddon: "I'm all for it."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Pena hits a sixth-inning solo home run off New York Yankees pitcher Sidney Ponson in their baseball game at Yankee Stadium on July 9, 2008. KATHY WILLENS  |  AP
    Just the other day, Pena’s son asked him about being considered for the Hall.
  2. FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter smiles as he speaks during a news conference in Miami. Derek Jeter is among 18 newcomers on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot, announced Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, and is likely to be an overwhelming choice to join former New York Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera in Cooperstown after the reliever last year became the first unanimous pick by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) WILFREDO LEE  |  AP
    Former Rays Carlos Pena and Heath Bell are also among the 18 up for election for the first time.
  3. Long faces dominate some of the remaining Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans during the fourth quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, November 17, 2019, in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What remaining game will Tampa Bay be favored to win?
  4. The cover of the book Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin Courtesy Jean Fruth
    The 224-page book features a chapter on Tampa, and an essay by Hall of Famer Wade Boggs.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 10 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Rays Tales: Team execs on Houston’s big problem, a base for winter acquisitions, trophy time and an upcoming owners meeting.
  6. Jameis Winston (3) points to fans after the Bucs' 2017 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Previewing Bucs-Saints, justice for the Astros, answers for the Lightning.
  7. FILE - In this July 24, 2019, file photo, Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to an Oakland Athletics batter during a baseball game in Houston. Verlander has been awarded his second AL Cy Young Award. MICHAEL WYKE  |  AP
    The Mets’ Jacob deGrom wins the NL award for the second straight year.
  8. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talks with reporters in the dugout the day after clinching a playoff spot. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Ray Rocco Baldelli wins top honors after his first season with the Twins, Aaron Boone was second.
  9. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, addresses the media during a press conference at Tropicana Field Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Award came from a vote of team executives; Yankees Cashman was second.
  10. Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa.  Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement