PHILADELPHIA -- Sixty-three days after he bounced his car off a tree,Len dykstra has gotten the point.
Like the slow,methodical,deliberate coaxing of a full count,this all came gradually to Len Dykstra.He has had to work at it.
" you know what's finally sunk in"? he asked.
" that I can't afford to make one mistake.Not a single one. I'm not allowed. It may not be fair. It may not be right, it may not be wrong. It's just the way it is and I can't change it."
Some people go their whole lives and never figure that out. At 28, and fortunate to still be around, Len Dykstra has grasped a fundamental truth of life.
And something more, too:
"It's weird, though, man, isn't it? I mean, that it takes something really big -- pow! -- to make you stop and stand back and say, 'Oh, geez, what am I doing?' How come it takes almost getting killed to wake you up?"
This is as close to deep philosophy as baseball conversation gets.
Monday, in an empty Phillies clubhouse, with his wounded wing bound up in a harness of ice, cooling down after another hour of trying to finesse the return of that sweet batting stroke from a body that still hurts, Len Dykstra talked for 55 minutes.
He showed, by turns, anger, humor, frustration, understanding, resentment, an appreciation of irony and a genuine bafflement at all that has cascaded down upon him in the last few months. He asked as many questions as he answered. And he paid attention to the replies.
There were even flashes of vulnerability.
"I'm not the crazy, out-of-control dirtbag that people think I am," he said. "I'm really not. But I don't know how to change that. People judge me and they don't even know me. I guess they judge what happened, what I did. And that's my fault. I don't get mad at people who bury me now, because if I hadn't screwed up, they wouldn't have had the opportunity to judge me. Nobody did that but me."
Mostly he came across as a young man who has been brought up short, who has recoiled from his run-in with a tree and has been made to take a hard, harsh self-inventory.
You came away with the feeling that there is hope for Len Dykstra. That sentence couldn't have been written two months ago.
But he has come miles since the early hours of May 6 when he spun out on a curve and totaled $90,000 worth of automobile and roughly $20 million worth of ballplayers. He and his passenger, teammate Darren Daulton, were legally intoxicated at the time, according to police reports.
"I did something a million guys do every night, right?"
"If I was just some working stiff, it would have been no big deal, right?"
Right. The performer lives in a goldfish bowl. Normal sins are forbidden him.
"That goes with making $2 million a year?"
The conversation would return to this vein several times. Initially, he was impatient and rankled. By the end, he seemed to accept the premise with a sad shake of the head.
"Man, I was on top of the world," he reflected. "Coming off a big year. Signed that big contract for all that money. As soon as everything is perfect, you get knocked off your pedestal. You learn life is unfair."
He is anxious to atone, and the best way he knows how is on a ball field. But yesterday Dykstra batted like a man who is still hurt, still severely limited, who has no business trying to come back tomorrow night when his team begins the second half of a wretched season that is beyond salvation anyway.
Even if Len Dykstra returns and hits .800, the Phillies aren't going to win the pennant. Not this year.
"Seems like no matter what I do, it'll be wrong," he said.
Bet on it, he was told.
And Len Dykstra laughed.
Under the circumstances, it was the best medicine.