Cutter Dykstra leaned against a wall at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, another dose of stretching behind him in an attempt to hurry along his injured hamstring. While his Potomac Nationals teammates play Myrtle Beach, Dykstra will sit, watch and maybe stretch a little more.
“A couple more days,” he said, “and I’m playing.”
Out there on this field in Woodbridge, home of the Washington Nationals’ high-Class A team, Dykstra’s life is simple. Hit the ball and catch it, and the score is the only thing worth talking about. But this hamstring is holding things up, keeping the 24-year-old infielder sidelined and his career stalled. Instead of talking baseball, he stood there and discussed how life sometimes isn’t so simple.
Cutter’s father is Lenny Dykstra, the longtime major leaguer who won a World Series in 1986 and developed a reputation as one of the game’s fiercest competitors. After retiring, Lenny Dykstra became an entrepreneur, which earned him millions, and then he went to prison. Cutter doesn’t want to speak about his father’s problems or his release last month from a 6½-month sentence. Even when he was asked how often he talks with his dad, Cutter said nothing and shook his head.
Cutter is also engaged to Jamie-Lynn Sigler, the actress best known for her role as Meadow on “The Sopranos,” and the couple’s first child is due in late August. These facts are fodder for gossip blogs and opportunistic photographers; if the couple walks on the beach or dines together, the news is often published for all to see.
So the thing is, as Potomac manager and former major leaguer Brian Daubach understands, it takes more than just a healthy body to advance in this game. A clear mind is also necessary.
“He has a lot of stuff going on,” Daubach said. “But if I can be there for him in any way, he knows I’m always there.”
Daubach said they talk often, sometimes about the game and other times so the manager can help Dykstra, as Daubach put it, “clear his head.” Five years after the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the second round, Dykstra has yet to reach Class AA. Washington traded for him in 2011, and after he hit .212 with Potomac, he was demoted and spent 2012 with low-Class A Hagerstown.
“Cutter tries to probably do more than he can at times,” Daubach said.
And sometimes impatience sets in.
“The goal is to be in the big leagues, so of course it’s taking longer,” said Dykstra, who’s hitting .254 with five steals in 54 games with Potomac this season.
Nearly three decades ago, things seemed to come so easily for his father. By age 24, Lenny Dykstra already was in his third season with the New York Mets, a year removed from the 1986 World Series victory under Manager Davey Johnson that was partially fueled by Dykstra’s .300 postseason batting average.
Lenny became famous for his hustle and aggressive nature — his nickname was “Nails” — and for the bulging wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek. Cutter was 4 when his dad played in the 1993 World Series, and although he doesn’t remember much from the Philadelphia Phillies’ six-game loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, he has highlights from that season, when his father finished second in MVP voting behind Barry Bonds, on his iPad. Sometimes he watches the videos before his own games.
“Just to get me fired up,” Cutter said. “Just the way he attacked the game was so great; that’s how I’m trying to model my game, too.”
Lenny last played in the 1996 season, and a dozen years later his name resurfaced as a sort of investing savant. Somehow an athlete who liked to pick fights with catchers, chew out umpires and let tobacco juice stream down his chin understood the secrets to making millions. He built a car-wash empire, published a magazine targeted at pro athletes and spent time trading stocks. During an HBO profile in 2008, CNBC host and former hedge-fund manager Jim Cramer called Dykstra “one of the great ones in this business.”
Dykstra claimed a net worth of about $58 million, occasionally taking a private jet to watch Cutter’s minor league games, but in 2009 he filed for bankruptcy. Facing a possible 20-year prison sentence, Dykstra pleaded guilty to one count each of bankruptcy fraud, money laundering and concealment of assets last summer; he was sentenced in December to 6½ months in prison.
As his father’s ordeal was unfolding, Cutter tried to focus on baseball — and on establishing his own identity. He had worn his dad’s No. 4 jersey in high school, but he now wears No. 15.
“It got to the point where I was ready to do this on my own,” he said.
Still, comparisons to his father’s intensity were never far off, and he said he embraces that.
“This is a hard-nosed type of player, gritty player,” Daubach said of Lenny Dykstra, “and Cutter is definitely that. He’s a leader of the team, and people feed off that. He’s taking extra bases; he’s doing all the little things.”
He improved his versatility, moving from second base to shortstop and even third, and spent offseasons working on his swing with Nick Swisher, the major league veteran who plays for the Cleveland Indians. Cutter spent hours with Swisher, including some nights at the player’s California home, which Swisher shares with actress Joanna Garcia. Sometimes Sigler, a friend of Garcia’s, would find her way to the house, too, and she and Cutter developed a relationship. Sigler has attended some of Cutter’s games, and Cutter said they will be married sometime after the 2014 season. In the meantime, he said he has learned to laugh at the attention they receive in public, the photographers’ camera flashes and the common activities that occasionally become news.
“I’m just along for the ride,” he said.
Dykstra said he doesn’t think the distractions off the field have hindered his career, adding that he’s optimistic that, whenever he’s healthy, the Nationals organization will have a better idea of his ability.
In March, during a spring training game against Philadelphia, Dykstra said he approached Johnson, now Washington’s manager, and asked whether it was strange writing that name into the lineup again. Dykstra recalled that Johnson laughed, telling the youngster he liked it. Dykstra, knowing television cameras would be rolling, pushed a wad of tobacco into his cheek before the game. He later singled in his only at-bat.
“One of the coolest memories,” he said nearly four months later.
Others have developed since. In mid-June, Daubach said, Dykstra flew to California during the Carolina League’s all-star break and visited with his father, who had been released from prison. Daubach said it was good for Cutter.
“I know that eased his mind a little bit,” the manager said.