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A CAREER IN THE BALANCE
Steve Rushin
March 18, 1991
Atlanta's Nick Esasky is struggling to get back on his feet after a dizzying season
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March 18, 1991

A Career In The Balance

Atlanta's Nick Esasky is struggling to get back on his feet after a dizzying season

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To come back, he has come back to Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach, reporting two days after his 31st birthday. Bundled letters, stacked like masonry, wait in his locker. Most of the envelopes, he knows, contain a home remedy for vertigo, which touches one in every 10 Americans at some point in their lives. For Esasky, the illness began, in the form of severe fatigue, in this very ballpark one week into his first spring training with the Braves last March.

Well-intentioned correspondents have since advised him to stand on his head until all of his blood has flowed to the brain. They have suggested kitchen elixirs to put in his ear. "Yogurt," says Esasky. He remembers a letter saying how yogurt can cure his ailment.

But the first of a hundred diagnoses and prescriptions was Esasky's own. "I thought I had the flu," he says. "And I figured once I got back home, out of the sun, I'd start feeling better." He figured he'd better get better. There were, after all, 14 season tickets set aside at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for his and his wife Vicki's families, both of which live in the Atlanta area. As a free agent, Esasky had signed a three-year, $5.7 million contract the previous November to play in the place where he and Vicki—they now have three children—have lived in the off-season since 1979.

"But the season started and things got worse," Esasky says. "I was having problems reacting. I didn't feel coordinated. It was like I was in slow motion, and everything else was still moving very quickly around me."

He became dizzy, which made him nauseated, but he told no one. On April 17, the Braves traveled to Houston for their third series of the regular season. "That's where I became really concerned about being able to catch the ball," Esasky says. "I had been catching balls without knowing how I caught them. I started missing balls that I should have caught. Pickoff throws. I thought they were here, but they were a fraction of an inch over there. It wasn't a major thing, but in baseball, if you miss it by a little bit, you're missing the whole thing. I got concerned that I was going to get hit in the face by a ball. So when we went to the next series, in Cincinnati, I went in and told the team that something was going on, that I didn't know what it was, but that I needed to get checked out."

The Braves made a list of ists. There were neurologists. There were ophthalmologists. There were doctors who called themselves neuro-ophthalmologists. One ist prescribed glasses that sharpened Esasky's vision from his natural 20/15 to a painful 20/10. He might have been able to inspect the contents of unopened suitcases with the glasses, but he couldn't walk while wearing them.

Esasky saw an orthodontist, who removed the braces from his teeth. He saw an allergist. He saw a psychologist on the possibility this was all in his head. He saw a hypnotist, "to sec if we could just block it out by mind power," Esasky says. "That didn't work. Hocus-pocus doesn't do it." He saw physical therapists and internists and other specialists. Nobody found anything. Everybody found nothing.

"Most people with dizziness are told they have to live with it," says Kramer, the director of the Dizziness and Balance Center in Wilmette, Ill. "That is a lot of bull, but the word is not out."

A spinal tap in June revealed nothing. Esasky spent July undergoing the Lyme disease treatments, but that healed nothing. He went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in the first week of August. Doctors there, like the doctors at Case Western in Cleveland, found nothing extraordinary. "I came back from the Mayo Clinic and said, 'O.K., we went to the best place you can go, but we still don't know anything. Now what do we do?' " says Esasky. "We decided to do nothing for a while, to see if it would go away on its own."

He tried to take batting practice and do some fielding at the ballpark when the Braves were home in August and September. There he told SI's Tim Crothers, "The hardest part is the uncertainty. If it was a broken arm, there would be a time frame for it to heal, but you can't rehab inside your head."

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