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In October, Braves president Stan Kasten referred Esasky to Kramer, who persuaded him otherwise. Esasky went to Wilmette and began to rehab inside his head.
"Tests showed that his inner ear was not functional on the right side," says Kramer. The damage, it is assumed, was done by a virus, but neither Esasky nor Kramer care anymore about the cause. A cure has become the only concern.
The human body has three systems to maintain equilibrium: the eyes, the inner ears (or vestibular system) and sensory fibers in the bottom of the feet. Having essentially lost one third of his ability to maintain balance, Esasky had overtaxed his eyes trying to compensate.
"We must make him less visually dependent," says Kramer. "We developed a program of physical therapy to retrain the balance system, to help the brain compensate for the inner-ear problem."
The catch? Esasky's regimen of rehab exercises is designed to build an immunity to fatigue—so the brain will remain alert—and an immunity to nausea caused by dizziness. Esasky exercises, in other words, to make himself sick and tired.
"Thanks a lot," Esasky remembers telling Kramer. "I was already sick when I walked in here. This seems kind of silly. These exercises look silly."
"He was calling me a sadist," recalls Kramer.
So Esasky now takes silly walks, on deep-pile carpet, on balance beams and on platforms of various heights. He plays Nintendo jet-fighter games for hand-eye coordination. He pantomimes leaping for high line drives, with his eyes closed, until he is too light-headed to continue. He plays catch with balls of different sizes and colors. All of this consumes about an hour a day. It is the mental equivalent of swinging a weighted bat, designed to make everything seem easier in a game.
"With a guaranteed three-year, six million-dollar contract, you'd say he's got it made," says Kramer. "Why should he do this? I've never seen a patient so determined to get back to his prior level."
"Right now, maybe I'm 50 percent better," says Esasky. "Some days I'm better than 50 percent. But there hasn't been one day when I've felt 100 percent. And I may never get to 100 percent. But if I can get to the point where I'm still able to play, whether it be at 75 or 80 percent of what I was before, then that's what I'll have to do."