In those days, Tatoian, one of life's truly great guys, was the assistant general manager of the Quad City Angels.
As Tatoian settled into work that day the ceiling in his closet-sized office caved in. The collapsing debris barely missed him and he avoided sustaining what would have surely been a serious injury.
Fast forward to today -- in the midst of a wildly successful sports management career -- Tatoian is still the same guy who cut his sports management teeth in his hometown.
Now, though, he has a ceiling he can trust.
"Those were fun times,'' Tatoian, the president/CEO of Dover (Delaware) International Speedway, said of his early days in the business of running a sports franchise. "I met lots of great people and some colorful characters.''
Dover, famous for its Monster Mile, is a NASCAR staple. It plays host to two three-day NASCAR weekends and the wildly popular Firefly Music Festival, which attracts approximately 100,000 concertgoers over four days.
In the last week, the ever-modest Tatoian was named a finalist for the 2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year award, which recognizes individuals in the NASCAR industry for their community service efforts.
During his 12-year relationship with the nearby Dover Air Force Base, Tatoian has championed numerous causes, including chairing Dover's USO advisory council.
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One duty that sets USO Dover apart is its Dignified Transfer program. It is the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen.
"Honored, to say the least,'' Tatoian said of the nomination during in a phone conversation earlier this week. "It's great to be recognized, but we all know no one person accomplishes something, it's many staffers here and it's the many USO volunteers and it's the great work that is done at Dover.
"I have an 89-year-old father (Art), who served as a Marine,'' Tatoian added. "I have tremendous respect and admiration for that. And since I did not serve, this is my opportunity to assist in the great work of those who defend our nation.''
Recognition aside, Tatoian, is the husband to Tammy, father to Natasha, Nick, and Zach, and has fashioned himself an amazing career. After leaving baseball locally, he was CEO of the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based United Sports Group, which owned the Quad City Mallards and eight other professional franchises.
Tatoian also led a group that built a $45 million dollar stadium that housed an independent league baseball team in Gary, Ind., and guided the fortunes of an Arena Football League team in Orlando, Fla. He served as vice-president at Dover before taking over the president/CEO duties in 2012. Dover has reached heights never seen before under Tatoian's people-first leadership.
"Our time with the Mallards was great fun,'' Tatoian said. "We had great support from the community. For me, it was great to be able to have a hand in something, in a place so special to me, and my family.''
He still makes two trips home to the Quad-Cities each year. The soft-spoken Tatoian says he loves being just 90 minutes from big city markets like Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York but says Dover has an attractive Midwest flavor about it.
"Wonderful place,'' he said of Dover. "Amazing community. If you drive about Delaware, you'll understand there is a farming background to it and a rich tradition of togetherness. We love it, but we also love being at home. You cannot beat the Quad-Cities. My wife is from Cedar Rapids and we love that, but me getting home to see my sister, my dad and seeing the growth of the Quad-Cities, that's special. The holidays are the best time in the Quad-Cities.''
After 35 years of a job, Tatoian says there are no plans to slow down.
"There is no end game for me,'' he said. "How many times can you look at a lake and how many rounds of golf can you play? I've been given a chance to work at something special and come across some of the most amazing people through the years. I enjoy what I'm doing. I work for and with some wonderful and talented folks, and I don't want that to go away. It's been a great run, but I'd like to stay at it.''
Provided the ceiling lasts.
Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or firstname.lastname@example.org.