Over the next month Butler rebuilt his body with the help of trainer Mackie Shilstone in New Orleans. He began working out with the Dodgers on Aug. 27, and 10 days later he was in the starting lineup.
The announcement of Butler's first at bat brought a 45-second standing ovation. He bit his lip, tipped his helmet to the crowd, took two deep breaths and grounded out on the first pitch. In the third inning he popped out weakly. Then in the fifth he slapped a ground ball single between shortstop and third base. The crowd rejoiced. It was one of those magical nights when the game seemed as small as a pebble on the ocean floor. The same kind of feeling was evoked in 1993, when Bo Jackson hit a home run in his first game with an artificial hip, and in 1989, when Dave Dravecky won his first game back after having a cancerous tumor removed from his pitching shoulder.
The winning run last Friday was vintage Butler: a seven-pitch walk, a stolen base on which he continued to third on a throwing error, and the dash home on a fly ball. An exhausted Butler was replaced in the ninth inning. Still, he started the next night, going 2 for 4 in a 4-3 win over the Pirates, and even on Sunday, when he went 0 for 2 with two walks. Asked about needing a day off, Butler shot back, "My goal is to play every day."
He did admit, however, that he must conserve his energy better. He arrived in Los Angeles at 4:30 a.m. last Thursday on the team flight from New York, taped The Tonight Show later that day, scored the winning run on Friday, went to bed at 1:30 a.m. and was up at 8 a.m. on Saturday to appear on Fox's pregame show. "I can't keep that up," he said. Doctors have told him the survival rate is 85% for patients who stay cancer-free for two years.
Let Sept. 6 stand as an unofficial holiday on the baseball calendar. On that date in 1995 Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played (2,130). One year later, even as Eddie Murray was hitting his 500th home run in Baltimore, Butler was scoring the winning run in the most important game of his life. After that game Butler repaired to the trainer's room and underwent one of three weekly IV infusions of laetrile, a drug not approved by the FDA.
It was 10:55 p.m. when Butler emerged from the 20-minute treatment and a shower. All of his teammates were gone. A clubhouse attendant handed him a message. It was from Murray, his former teammate, who wanted Butler to call him.
Butler dressed, but he could not retrieve his valuables from the safety box in his locker. He had been gone so long that he had forgotten the combination on the lock. He walked out of the clubhouse and into a room next door where Eveline was waiting. Wordlessly, with tears pooling in her eyes, she hugged him around his scarred, reddened neck, holding tightly, as if she did not want to let go of the whole wonderful night.