What was it Nick Esasky said a fortnight before, when he was still at home in Marietta, Ga.? He said he'd begun hitting again. Esasky, who missed virtually all of last season with vertigo, who still sees ghosts trailing after the baseball as if he were viewing it on a bad TV set, then apologized for his optimism. "I'm only hitting against a BP pitcher," he said. "I really won't know much until I see the real thing this spring."
This is it, then. Two weeks later, the man so troubled by seeing and standing has come to Florida to see where he stands.
He has taken a flight down to West Palm Beach from Atlanta. Isn't that enough in itself? Flying still makes him sick. But at least it no longer lays him up for two days afterward, as it did last summer. He could have driven his Mercedes the 600 miles down the interstate to the Atlanta Braves' camp, if he had really wanted to. Surely that would have been enough. He couldn't have imagined doing that last summer. "Especially not in high-speed traffic," he says, "where people were changing lanes, coming from the left and the right of me. I couldn't take all the information in front of me. It was hard enough to decipher how fast the other guy was coming. Is he coming all the way over? It was like a ground ball: I see it coming, but I see it coming slower than it really is."
But, hey, he's out of the house. Isn't that enough? Last July, for the entire month, he had to lie down in that house every day, for 45 minutes every 12 hours, enduring intravenous antibiotics for Lyme disease, which he didn't have. At least now he's back out in the sun with his teammates. Isn't that enough?
If you know Esasky, you see this coming: None of this is enough. Uncured, he nonetheless wants to play major league baseball again—but not as he did in the Braves' first nine games last season, when he struck out 14 times in 35 at bats and committed five errors at first base. He was, in his own words, "a little kid who didn't know how to play the game."
No, Esasky wants to play again as he did for the Boston Red Sox in 1989, when he hit .277 with 30 home runs and 108 RBIs. He wants to play the way he did during his first seven seasons in the majors, before his eyes began telling lies.
Isn't that too much?
After all, "a baseball player's whole life is visual dependency," says Jeffrey Kramer, the neurologist now treating Esasky.
"If anybody can come back from something like this," says Braves manager Bobby Cox, "I think Nick can."
So does Esasky. He still doesn't know exactly what he is coming back from, but that no longer bothers him.