"That was best lump I've taken," Daulton says, "but it wasn't as hard as the car crash." He tried to come back on May 21 but wasn't ready. A week later he was disabled again for three more weeks.
Though Daulton wasn't driving the night of the accident, he says he "also took some heat.... But I've done what I can to make up for it. I've done public service ads against drunk driving. Whatever bad image I had is pretty much gone."
From June 3 to 12, Daulton drove in a run in eight straight games—the first Phillie to do that since Mike Schmidt in 1984. He also had seven homers in a stretch of eight games that ended last Saturday, giving him 11 for the season—one short of his career high. And he was hitting .408 with men in scoring position and was only 10 RBIs shy of his career high.
"I'm having my best year," he says. "Part of it is because I worked so hard in the off-season. My body was so beat up, I basically had to rebuild it. I had my left knee operated on for the sixth time in the off-season. So I just went to the gym all winter. I didn't want to go into the season saying, 'Hey, I could have done more.' "
In one of the most inspiring comebacks of the season, Braves first baseman Nick Esasky is hitting home runs again. Long home runs. And while they have been hit for Atlanta's Triple A Richmond affiliate during a 20-day rehabilitation assignment that began on June 5, that hardly matters. The fact that Esasky can even lay a bat on a ball is reason enough for optimism. Esasky hasn't played in the majors since April 21, 1990, when his once promising career was halted by vertigo, possibly the result of a virus. Only five months earlier Esasky signed a three-year, $5.7 million contract as a free agent.
In three of his first five games for Richmond, Esasky hit homers, two of which went more than 400 feet, reminding some of the 30 homers he hit for Boston in 1989. A homer on June 9 went 60 feet up a light tower in left center; Richmond players wondered if the two homers teammate Andy Tomberlin belted that same night totaled as much distance as Esasky's one.
"It's a long battle, you know, and you go through a lot of changes," says Esasky, who still has bouts of dizziness. "The tips and downs, the not knowing what's going to happen. You get depressed, upset, frustrated. You don't know what's going on. It's weird. Then you start learning how to deal with it, to accept certain ways you feel. I mean, this may be the way I'm going to be for good, and I have to deal with that. But I wanted to see if I could play at this level. And I'll never know until I try."
When the 20-day rehab assignment is over, the Braves will have to make a decision on Esasky, but they could certainly use him in the number 5 spot, behind David Justice. In their pursuit of a second straight National League West title, which found them 3� games out of first on Sunday, the Braves haven't gotten much help from first basemen Sid Bream and Brian Hunter.
What's the next step for Esasky? "I don't know, I really don't," says Braves general manager John Schuerholz, who insists that evaluating Esasky's progress isn't the same as figuring out the prognosis on someone with, say, a knee injury. "Who knows? In two or three days maybe this condition will revisit him. But so far he's done very well."