For a young, impressionable nascent baseball fan, Darren Daulton was not the perfect role model but he was a wonderful one. As John noted in his obituary, in his life off the field and outside the clubhouse Daulton fell prey to vices, violence, and kookery. A parent wouldn’t want a child to emulate those aspects of Daulton. However, between the foullines and within the confines of the Vet, Dutch was an icon, a flesh and blood statuary installed throughout that now defunct temple of efficiency and multitasking. His very stature commemorated the pinnacle of athletics. No one’s shoulders were broader, and no one carried a heavier load than he, keeping the Macho Row focussed on playing baseball and not getting sidetracked by extracurriculars and the usual clashes of aggressive personalities. (Imagine having to wrangle Curt Schilling and Mitch Williams on the same team!)
I am of an age where I have trouble remembering the Phillies before Darren Daulton was their starting catcher. Sure, I had a Lance Parrish folder in kindergarten, and I remember that he was a heralded bust. But I don’t remember anything specific about him: not his swing, nor gait, nor smile. I don’t remember watching him play, although I certainly did. And I don’t remember wanting to play baseball like him or command a room like him. Daulton, on the other hand, is a fixture at the dawn of my baseball personality.
In particular, I remember imitating his swing endlessly. Although I was a small child and knew I would never come close to Dutch’s bearing (I was in every baseball way a pre-steroids Dykstra), his swing held a charm. He would whip his bat through the zone across his broad flat chest until the bat—more a thick dowel than a club in his hands—rebounded back towards the pitcher and down to the ground. Its frank, flat violence bewitched me. The swing was more whiplash than arc, probably not ideal for imitation. Nevertheless, every time I picked up a whiffle ball bat in a backyard or knocked a koosh around in our basement, I tried to hit like Dutch. I yanked my shoulders, tucked my hands, and swung as hard as I could (which was barely hard enough to scare the cat). If I was lucky I might dunk a whiffle ball into a flowerbed or up onto a deck and get to circle the bases. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to dream on having that swing, which to my young, naive eyes was the most powerful swing in the baseball.
Of course, I didn’t idolize him just for his swing. His entire demeanor seemed noble. Of course, it helped that he was extremely good looking, but it wasn’t just that. His smile was genuine and trustworthy. When he spoke to the media, his voice was steady and calm. Dutch never seemed shook, never threw teammates under the bus, and never displayed his anger to the fans. He reserved it for private consultations. I could not have been conscious of these things as a child. Yet today I find him one source of inspiration for my own work in classrooms, at conferences, and in my personal life. I could never attain Dutch’s stature physically; genes don’t lie. But within the grass and dirt of a diamond Darren Daulton provided me in my childhood another kind of stature I might attain.
To be sure, Daulton was not perfect and his imperfections are not to be excused. But he had an indelible impact for the better on me and, I can only imagine, a myriad of other children. He will be missed. Thank you, Dutch.
Here’s a final memory: