DARREN DAULTON HAS A TOOTHACHE.
Not just a dull annoying toothache. A four-alarm somebody-hand-me-a-gun dental calamity.
“Didn’t sleep last night, nothing,” he says when he reaches me at my Clearwater Beach hotel to confirm our meet-up. “I’m hurtin’. But I’ll be there.”
Next morning, I get a text on my cell: “its dutch. At dentist … fuuuk!! Cudnt take it aymore. I call u wen dun.”
An hour later, I find Dutch standing in the hotel lobby, staring out large open doors that overlook the beach and a long pier. It’s an ocean view he’s seen thousands of times, starting with the spring trainings he spent with the Phillies, gunning baseballs down to second and whacking pitches on diamonds just a few short miles from this beach town — the same town where he lives today with his girlfriend of four years, Amanda, a former pro golfer, and, when custody permits, the three youngest of his four children.
When he turns toward me, I see his jaw is swollen, his face misshapen. A tooth was chipped, which exposed a nerve, which caused the pain. He hasn’t slept or had anything to eat for nearly two days. His eyes are glassy from the ordeal.
“I could use a shot of tequila,” he tells the approaching waitress as we settle into a table off the lobby, then thinks better of it: “Just a glass of water, please.”
Darren “Dutch” Daulton, who turns 49 this month, has already lived a few lives.
Now, after a long absence, the former Phillies star is among us again — doing both a Phillies post-game gig for Comcast SportsNet and a highly rated weekday radio show on 97.5 during the baseball season — and people are wondering if this is the advent of yet another new life for Daulton.
Our favorite Daulton past life was the baseball life, the one that came in the ’90s, when we cheered his clubhouse leadership and admired the way he fought through injuries. Women, in particular, loved Dutch. He was a major stud, hands-down the best-looking member of the hell-raising, mullet-wearing, pennant-winning ’93 Phillies, and just maybe the best-looking player in franchise history.
Then there was the off-field life, which no one cheered or loved, a life better suited for TMZ than SportsCenter, one filled with DUIs, a refusal to take a Breathalyzer, an arrest for driving with a suspended license, failing to appear in court, and two spectacular car crashes — one as a passenger, when teammate Lenny Dykstra drove a car into a tree in Radnor after a bachelor party for John Kruk in 1991; the other a decade later, when he smashed up his BMW and claimed he was run off the road as the result of a broken business deal tied to the FBI and the White House.
In 2003, he was arrested on battery charges and accused of abusing his second wife, Nicole. A year later, after refusing to abide by a legal agreement related to the subsequent divorce, he was forced to serve two and a half months in jail and two and a half months in rehab.
If They Only Knew, the book he authored about his experiences with ascension, living in different dimensions, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences and numerology, came next, in 2007.
Reaction from fans and the media was swift and derisive. An earlier headline in Deadspin, a blog that often traffics in the misery of athletes, prophetically summed up what everybody had come to believe: that Daulton not only had some run-of-the-mill (though serious) substance-abuse and romantic problems, but that “Darren Daulton Is Freaking Insane.”
DESPITE THE DENTAL TRAUMA, Dutch looks healthy and sturdy, deeply tanned and fit. He attributes his well-being to sit-ups and push-ups and riding a bike four days a week at the gym, a regimen he considers a necessary evil: “The worst part of the gym is walking in; the best part is walking out.”
Remarkably, considering the abuse he’s inflicted upon himself, he looks a decade younger than his near half-century, better than he does on television, where he can seem tentative and inexpressive and where the lighting accentuates his thinning hair.
All in all, Double D checks out dandy on the corporeal front. But the toothache aftershocks threaten to make the task of assessing the state of Darren Daulton’s psyche more challenging than it already is.
And make no mistake, that’s why I’m here.
With Daulton’s new media gigs, hope is running high among his friends that this latest life is the magic bullet, the one that will banish forever his reputation as a screwup.
But there remain the skeptics, and though it wasn’t said to me explicitly, there’s only one reason I’d go to Florida to visit a ballplayer who hasn’t stepped to the plate since 1997, and that’s to answer one question:
Is Darren Daulton still whacked-out?
“MAJOR ASSHOLE, BRILLIANT WRITER,” Dutchie says, flashing the warm and extravagant smile I’ll see repeatedly over the next two days.
He’s talking about Bill Conlin, the veteran baseball scribe for the Daily News, and his assessment — one most baseball people would agree with, including maybe Conlin himself — is intended as a compliment.
Dutch and I are talking baseball, a couple of guys shooting the shit, buying time until the inevitable plunge into metaphysics and ascension and astral travel and all the other topics that have led people to wonder if Daulton is certifiably bonkers.
Though Dutch doesn’t seem to mind talking baseball, on this day at least (and it could be the tooth) the topic doesn’t elicit much enthusiasm. In his playing days, he saw baseball lifers all around him, guys who clung to the game long after their playing days, and he didn’t want to become that. “I always had a lot more on my mind,” Dutch says.
His relationship with the game was a love-hate affair, the latter stemming in part from pressure he felt as team leader. Once you take leadership on, he says, there’s no going back. You become the go-to guy for everything — from pumping a player up, to giving someone hell, to asking Lenny to come out of the clubhouse and say a few words to a reporter.
It’s why he relates closely to current clubhouse leader Chase Utley: “He never shows it, but I know that burden he carries.”
Yes, of course, he finds it ironic that he’s now working as a baseball analyst.
“Shit, Tim, the only thing I watched on TV after I quit baseball was Seinfeld,” he says.
And then, just like that, we’re somewhere else:
“We’re all living in two worlds,” Dutch says, his smile turning brilliant. “The conscious world and the unconscious world.”
Perfect timing, too, because just at that moment I’d noticed the swelling in Daulton’s face had majorly subsided and had been wondering if, well, you know, he could have somehow …
“It’s important, Tim, to be of the world,” he says, right on cue, “not in the world.”
What happens next, for what feels like an interminable amount of time, is the world according to Dutch — not the extreme stuff, like the time he says he was teleported from one side of a building to another, or the day he saw himself running on the beach, but rather the more tangled precepts of his beliefs.
“We fear so much,” he says. “People attack out of fear and ego because they haven’t reached the higher stages of enlightenment. But they will. We all do. It’s like being a baby. We’re fed milk until we’re able to eat meat. You’re led that way. That’s how enlightenment works. It comes in stages. You have to replace fear with love. You have to realize you’re not in control.
“People fear ascension, but Jesus ascended. Look at me; I went from baseball to metaphysics, so you’d have to say I’m pretty enlightened. But because I made that trip, and I don’t know why it happened to me, there are all these opinions. That will change. People will come to me.”
I’d been told that when Dutch is in this mode, specifics become real elusive.
When I ask about his process for writing the book, he tells me it was revealed to him.
Was there research? No. Revelations.
When I wonder if his return to baseball means less time for the supernatural, he says it’s easy to be in two places at once; it’s kind of like enhanced daydreaming.
When he mentions the power of the Holy Spirit, I tell him it makes me think of Catholicism.
“Catholicism?” he repeats, beaming that big-ass smile. “A stepping stone to enlightenment. But it’s not the real deal. It’s man-made.”
The Mayan calendar, specifically the date December 21, 2012, plays big in Daulton’s thinking. He believes that day will signify a spiritual awakening, a rising of collective consciousness. It’s been reported that he’s said the world will end on that date, an attribution often cited as proof of his craziness.
When I ask him about the rapidly approaching end of the world, his face tightens for the first and only time.
“I never said that,” he says. “Look up what I said.”
So I do, and on page 140 of If They Only Knew, I find this: “Some writers, based on their insecurities and egos, have incorrectly said, ‘I believe it will be the end of the world.’ It’s an interesting thought to ponder, but not true. I do not believe the Mayan calendar is the prediction of the end of the world.”
I like clearing this up for him. Dutch’s friends and associates describe him as gentle and warm and genuine, if majorly vulnerable, and those depictions seem right on target. Despite having been ruthlessly ridiculed by the media, he’s allowed me this time with him — trusting, for whatever reason, that I won’t simply do a Dutch-is-crazy story.
“Do you understand why I talk about all this?” he says, referring to his beliefs.
“It’s because I need to let it out. I need to tell people. Tim, if all this was happening to you, wouldn’t you want to tell people?”
THERE ARE THEORIES for why Darren Daulton is obsessed with the supernatural, and I’ve heard them all: He’s an alcoholic, a pothead, a pill junkie, a paranoid, a cultist.
And it’s difficult, based on the troubles he’s made for himself, to dismiss any one of them out of hand.
“Don’t forget wife beater and kid beater,”- he says when I repeat the litany to him. “It got very, very lonely there for a while.”
Wait. If this were an episode of In Treatment and I were the shrink, I’d be scribbling the words “lonely” and “breakthrough” in my notebook.
I ask Dutch what it was like to be in jail, how he coped, what he thought about.
“I never lost my optimism,” he says. “I knew I’d be back with my kids. Things were going to get better.”
He pauses, maybe remembering that he didn’t always feel so positive in the slammer. The smile vanishes.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he says, finally. “When some guy on the other side of the wall would start yelling, crazy-like, I’d start thinking, ‘Fuck, I’m going to have to kill that guy.’”
THE NEXT MORNING, Dutch and I meet again, and this time there’s no tooth pain. His eyes are clear.
It’s a bright, sunny Clearwater day, one of so many that look just like this. He’s thinking he might get out and play a little golf.
He’s got just one thing left to say for this story, something he’s been thinking about all night.
“Tim, I need you to make this clear: Anything I did in the past is my fault. Not my ex-wife’s fault, not any of my kids’ faults, not baseball, not the media — me, my fault. I did the damage. Will you make sure that comes through? Will you do that for me?”
What isn’t as easy is to know for sure whether Dutch’s new life — the one that now has him mixing it up with unenlightened baseball fans, downing brews with clients at sports bars, talking baseball with first-time callers — will have real legs.
“I hear conflicting reports,” says one prominent baseball executive who loves and respects him immensely. “I’m hoping.”
Though Dutch’s forays into the surreal still worry some people, all indications are that he’s cleaned up his act dramatically. “‘He looks better than he has in years,” says one Clearwater friend. “And he no longer hits the town.”
The phrase I hear echoed most from those who know Dutch best is, “He’s got your back,” quickly followed by, “It’s what made him a clubhouse leader.”
So despite the screwups, all one bazillion of them, maybe the guy deserves a little due. Maybe it’s only fair to close out on a buoyant note with something Dutch said about himself in a rare moment of reflection, free of all the metaphysical stuff:
“Sometimes I look back at my life, and I see all the baseball I played, the All-Star games, the World Series, how I helped some guys in the clubhouse, how great my kids are, some of the nice things I’ve done for people along the way, and I think maybe I’m doing okay, maybe things aren’t so bad, just maybe I’m not so crazy after all.”