The next Dykstra?

Posted: April 24, 2011

Close your eyes and you can hear the father's voice as the son speaks.

Open your eyes and look beneath the son's spikes and you can recall the days when the father left a trail of tobacco juice on the outfield turf at Veterans Stadium.

There is no mistaking this is Lenny Dykstra's son, and he's more than happy to admit it.

Three years ago, when the Milwaukee Brewers selected Cutter Dykstra in the second round of the baseball draft, it was a feel-good story about the son trying to follow in the father's footsteps.

The father was considered a toast-of-the-town success at the time, a former big-league star who had transitioned into the business world with favorable critiques from Fortune magazine and Jim Cramer, a devout Philadelphia sports fan best known for his animated stock picks on CNBC.

Three years later, it's not at all fashionable to be connected to Lenny Dykstra, who was jailed last week on federal embezzlement charges. He was released Wednesday on $150,000 bond and ordered to seek outpatient substance abuse treatment and surrender his passport. He could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

The negative stories about his father have mounted since Cutter Dykstra signed with the Brewers in 2008, and the kid's career has recently taken a turn. Before the start of this season, he was traded from the Brewers to the Washington Nationals for hot-tempered outfielder Nyjer Morgan and $50,000 cash.

Cutter Dykstra is currently playing for single-A Potomac in the Carolina League, the same league in which his father hit .358 with a .472 on-base percentage as a 20-year-old New York Mets farmhand in 1983.

During a recent interview in the visiting dugout at Frawley Stadium, home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the son's message was clear: He loves and respects his father no matter what.

When asked about all the bad things that have surfaced about Lenny Dykstra in recent years, Cutter became defensive.

"I don't read any of that," he said. "That's stupid. I don't even waste my time reading that stuff. It doesn't really matter to me. I know who he is and I know what he's about. He's my dad and I love him."

Cutter Dykstra concedes that his father is different. He said he was aware of the interview his father did with NBC10's John Clark last month when the former Phillies centerfielder admitted his contempt for Mitch Williams because of the 1993 World Series loss and defended Charlie Sheen, the Hollywood star many believe is in the midst of a personal meltdown.

"He is [crazy]," Cutter said. "He's wild. That's the kind of dude he is. He's a different guy, but you know I love him, and if he wasn't like that he wouldn't be as successful as he was. He gave everything to baseball and gave everything he had. Everyone knew he was a little bit crazy."

Through the eyes of the son, however, Lenny Dykstra is still a good father.

Cutter, 21, was too young to remember the 1993 World Series and was not even born when his father won the World Series with the 1986 New York Mets. He was born 11 days after his father was traded from the Mets to the Phillies and has only a vague remembrance of his father's playing career.

"I was young, but I knew who he was and how famous he was," Cutter said. "I still remember going to the games and leaving a little early and listening to the game on the way home on the radio. I'd fall asleep in the back of the car."

The year he remembers most is 1998, when his father tried to make a comeback from back surgery that ultimately failed.

"I would go to the field with him a lot because I was old enough," Cutter said. "I'd hit and throw . . . it was really fun."

Before that spring training ended, Lenny Dykstra's baseball career was over. Cutter said that as the years passed, his father never lost his allegiance to the Mets and Phillies. As Cutter grew from boy to man, he learned more and more about his father's career.

"I don't remember the World Series, but I have a highlight video of that '93 season that I watch," he said. "I used to watch it every other day. I still watch it now and then, but it's a really cool video. It shows the whole year. I could watch that my whole life."

The video is part entertainment and part study guide.

"I enjoy it and I've kind of modeled my game off him," the son said. "That video - I try to do everything he does in that video from my stance to the way I run. Just watching that video gets me pumped up. That's one of the best things I can watch before a game."

In patterning himself after his father, he also developed one of baseball's most dangerous habits. Throughout his interview, he placed tongue to cheek and discarded tobacco juice by spitting on the dugout floor. His father was famous for turning the green carpet at the Vet into a dark brown that left opposing centerfielders leery of their track to the ball.

"He doesn't do it at all anymore," Cutter said. "I had a dip in one time and he said, 'What, do you think you're cool with that in your mouth?' He started laughing. I said, 'Yeah, you did it.' It goes back to that I'm trying to be like him on the field."

There's some question as to whether the son will ever be as good as the father. He was described on the Brewers' website as a mid-level prospect after he was traded to the Nationals. A National League scout said he doesn't have a true position, and he has bounced from center field to third base and second since being drafted. This season, he has been a designated hitter with Potomac. Going into Saturday night's game he was batting .273 with no extra-base hits, four RBIs, and two stolen bases.

Cutter said he was excited about being traded once he got over the initial shock.

"I got Pearl Harbored a little bit," he said. "It was kind of like, 'Wow.' But it's exciting, man. I put myself in a position to have this happen last year. I'm excited for the opportunity. The Brewers were great to me, and so far since I've been here the Nationals have been excellent. They're an up-and-coming team and this is a great place for me to be right now."

After a disappointing 2009 season caused his stock to tumble, Dykstra rebounded in 2010 with Milwaukee's Midwest League Wisconsin affiliate, putting up the kind of numbers that got his father to the big leagues. He batted .312 with a .416 on-base percentage and 27 stolen bases.

"Probably every interview I've ever done I get the question about the pressure of being as good as my father," he said. "I love it. I love that pressure. I love having Dykstra on the back of my jersey. People say, 'That's Lenny Dykstra's son,' and when I'm out there on the field I want people saying, 'Wow, he plays the game just like his dad does.' That's the right way.

"From the early stages my dad said, 'Put on a show. This is the entertainment business.' That's what I try to do. I try to entertain the fans."

Cutter Dykstra still seeks advice from his father and wishes he had stayed in the game as a coach or manager.

"He watches everything in the game and knows everything that's going on and what I'm feeling," the son said. "He knows the kind of player I am now. Whenever I need confidence, I can call him and I'll get three hits that day."

Cutter Dykstra said that before Lenny Dykstra had been jailed, but that bit of news did not likely change how the son feels about his father.

He said he dreamed of one day playing big-league games in New York and Philadelphia.

"That would be my dream," he said. "Those fans are great. My dad tells me they're the best fans in the world. If I am on another team playing there, they might start hating me. That's fine with me. The way I play, I feel like my fans love me and the other fans don't. That's the way the game works."

There's no mistaking who the father is.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/brookob

 

|
|
|
|
|