Joy would surge through Dwight Evans if every so often somebody would rewire major league scoreboards to go haywire. Just as he is about to bat would be perfect, for at those times up pops what irritates him so about baseball. Just over the pitcher's shoulder, or at some angle impossible to ignore, there they are: stats. His stats.
"I hate that," he said. "If I play for average, I press too much. So much depends on stats: your salary, how people judge you, even where you hit in the lineup. I try to avoid looking at 'em whenever I can, but sometimes to look at the pitcher means you gotta see your numbers."
His are fine. From the All-Star break two years ago, when he genuinely thought his career in jeopardy, Evans has been among the most well-rounded, most valuable and least appreciated players in baseball. Still . . .
"I hit to win. Lots of times I don't hit when we're way ahead. No motivation. But when we're behind"--his jaw snapped tight--"that's when I'm tough."
Three months after he was born, Evans' oldest son, Timothy Scott, was diagnosed as having neurofibromatosis, tumor formations that deform the body and face. It is more commonly known as the elephant man's disease. That was about nine years ago.
Nine months ago, the Evans family learned that the youngest son has an inoperable tumor on the surface of his brain. There have been more than 20 radiation treatments; six more are scheduled. Justin Dwight Evans is 5.
Evans' father also is seriously ill.
So no burden on a baseball field, no game-on-the-line situation in the tensest part of a World Series, could be close to what has torn at him over the years. Friends believe baseball games are among the few serene moments in his life, having watched him arrive uncommonly early at the park and be more absorbed than ever in his work.
"Faith," he said in the Red Sox clubhouse in Baltimore the other day, more than two hours before batting practice even began. The ground rules for the interview had been clear: nothing beyond baseball, nothing beyond that remarkable batting turnaround and his near-unique skills as a right fielder.
But the question of how he could play so consistently well with so much troubling him slipped out--and Evans fielded it.
"You do what is humanly possible," he said of his only boys. There is a 6-year-old daughter, Kirstin Ann. "Something happened. Fortunately, we've been able to take care of things. I know this isn't original, but I feel God never sends down more than you can handle. I've been very, very fortunate to have these children.
He held his hands near his face, and more emotion spilled out.
"It's made me appreciate other people's disabilities. My boys have gone through some tough times. Kids are mean. I was mean myself. Now I realize what it does to the kids being picked on, being made fun of. It hurts. This has made me realize there are little people in there who want to love and be loved, to be normal and accepted for the person inside instead of what they look like.
"My wife and I have grown up very fast. We still have a lot of growing to do."
"The 6-year-old has been like a rock. She keeps me going."
At the midpoint of the 1980 season, Evans' career was plummeting. At 28, with seven-plus years with the Red Sox, an all-star two years earlier, it looked as though he might never hit his weight again.
"I'd signed a new contract," he said, "and was hitting a buck-ninety. I thought I'd be out of baseball soon. I felt I didn't want to steal their money; I had to work (play regularly) for it. Then (Batting Coach Walt) Hriniak came by and said it was time to make a drastic change. At the time, nobody else was even talking to me, so I was grateful."
A missionary of Charlie Lau, who takes batting swings apart and puts them back together with the thoroughness of an Indy mechanic, Hriniak molded Evans into a sort of right-handed George Brett.
"I told him there would have to be a commitment," Hriniak said. "He couldn't do this for three days, and change; or three weeks, and change. He'd always changed stances at the first sign of trouble, jumped from one thing to the next. For six or seven years, all he wanted was to pull."
Evans has hit well above .300 since, with power to all fields. His confidence has risen even higher.
"I know what I can do, what I'm capable of accomplishing," he said. "I knew I was an exceptional outfielder, but I never was confident hitting. Last year I was leading the league in hitting before we were forced on strike. A month before the strike I was hitting so well.
"I was doing things I'd never done before. Course I was batting second, and getting more chances. But I'd pinch myself sometimes, say, 'Is this me?' A few players would say that maybe I was (American League) MVP, and I'd tell 'em they were crazy.
"Then some pitchers said, 'How can you think any other way?' They're right. I think I have the ability to be MVP (he finished a distant third, behind Rollie Fingers and Rickey Henderson, last year). I'm not being conceited, but I know what's achievable. And I kinda like that."
Evans got off the stool near his locker, shook hands firmly and started to walk away. Then Justin came to mind again.
"We'll find out in two weeks," he said. "I'm sure it'll be all right."
"My faith knows it'll be all right."