This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Patience isn’t necessarily easy for Austin Meadows. But when he started feeling symptoms of vertigo, he didn’t have much choice.
At the low point, getting back onto a baseball field was nowhere near his immediate concern. Simply standing up and moving around without feeling dizzy and light-headed was first.
“Sitting down, standing up, just kind of everyday life,” Meadows said. “It was definitely scary.”
It’s something that baseball fans of a certain age regard with similar fear every time they hear about the condition. Nick Esasky was a first-round Draft pick and imposing slugger in the prime of his career, coming off a 30-homer season with the Red Sox and a big free-agent contract with the Braves when he began feeling vertigo early in the 1990 season. He played nine games that season, and just nine more games in his Major League career before retiring following the 1992 season at age 32.
Esasky is the cautionary tale every time a case of vertigo arises in baseball. He is, by far, the most severe case study. Many others have encountered the conditions in the three decades since Esasky with less severe consequences.
Like Esasky, Meadows felt vertigo symptoms after dealing with an inner ear infection.
“It was weird,” Meadows said, “because I had that sinus infection that hit me, and everything kind of picked up after that and it kind of took a turn for the worse. I know a lot of people get just plain vertigo. For me, I feel like it was building up to it, so it was kind of hard to relate to a lot of people about it.”
Fortunately, several people could relate. One of them was Cubs outfielder Clint Frazier, who missed the second half of last season with vertigo-like symptoms, including blurred vision and dizziness, while with the Yankees.
“He actually reached out to me, gave me some advice on how to handle it and stuff like that, because he went through a hard time with it,” Meadows said. “That was pretty cool to have him reach out and tell me what he experienced and what to do about it. It was good. …
“A lot of people knew people that had it. I guess it was more common than I really thought. So a lot of people asked questions and how I dealt with it. Everybody was super supportive about it. Guys were checking in from here and from all over. Everybody was really supportive and understanding.”
A common theme was patience and rest, letting things settle down and not aggravating the situation. Meadows spent a week at his offseason home in the Tampa, Fla., area, then picked up activities step by step at the Tigers’ Spring Training facility in Lakeland.
After a rehab assignment last week at Triple-A Toledo, Meadows made his return Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, where his Major League career began with the Pirates four years ago. His routes on fly balls suggested he was still getting up to speed, but his two hits and a walk Wednesday — including a double off the top of the fence in right-center — suggested he caught up.
“He looked a little rusty, to be honest,” manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday morning, “but I thought he handled himself fine. It’s going to take some reps to get himself back up and running again at this level. He looked calm in the box, he looked under control. But everybody needs a little bit of a grace period to get up and running at this level. We kind of brought him back relatively quickly because of need. We know his at-bats are going to be very balanced.”
Meadows has no idea if he’ll have to deal with vertigo issues again. If he does, however, he feels he’s better prepared for it.
“I kind of know that feeling now of it coming on,” he said. “I think we have a little better understanding of it and how to handle it and, instead of missing it, being able to handle it in that moment and move on from it. It’s been a little bit of a challenge because it kind of came out of nowhere, but the doctors have been great and understanding. We kind of know where we’re at now.”