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A STUBBORN ONE : Persistence, and Then Some, Takes Titans' Staton to Brink of Pro Career

April 16, 1989|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

At the age of 15 he signed his life away--acknowledging on the medical waiver that he was playing baseball against doctors' advice and that if he died only his devotion to the game could be blamed.

When it came time for him to choose a college, he chose, only to find out the college didn't want him so much anymore, which meant a nearly unbearable year and a half of practicing baseball but not playing it.

When he thought it was time to turn pro, having just completed one of the greatest summers any college hitter has ever had, the pros made an offer so measly that the attending scout refused to reveal it to him because he thought the offer "insulting."

Dave Staton is a jilted lover. From the time he was 3, playing catch with his father, Bob, he has been true to baseball. By the time he was at Tustin High School, he knew it was what he wanted to do with his life.

"I couldn't imagine doing anything else."

But every step of the way his affections have gone unrequited. Baseball has always managed to leave him up in the air, dancing on the edge or shaking his head. There have been the broken promises, the half-hearted looks of scouts and recruiters, a bout with the disease lupus and the doubts about his talent.

"David has never had it easy," said Orange Coast College baseball coach Mike Mayne, who coached Staton in 1986 and 1987. "You tell kids if they work hard and sacrifice, something good will come of it. But that didn't happen for David. At least, not for a while. He always seemed to get the short end, he always got caught in the middle of something he didn't deserve."

Until now. Staton, Cal State Fullerton's designated hitter and leading candidate for hard-luck poster boy, is leading his team in home runs (14) and RBIs (53) and is hitting .381 Suddenly, a guy who couldn't catch a break has broken onto the scene.

"I can see no reason why Dave won't be hitting 30 homers a year in the major leagues someday," said scout Joe L. Brown, who has been with the Pittsburgh Pirate organization for 40 years, including 25 years as general manager.

Staton, who is 6-feet-5 and 220 pounds, is first and foremost a power hitter, with the kind of power that reminds Brown of, "a young Dick Stuart." Stuart hit 228 home runs in 10 major league seasons, including 42 in 1963 with the Boston Red Sox.

Staton was always big for his age. In second grade at Tustin's Helen Estock Elementary School, he turned away near-daily challenges to his honor, which kept his pride intact but did less to endear him to the school's staff.

"I had a lot of citizenship problems at that time," Staton said.

He rarely played with kids his own age, his size and skills always forcing him into the older leagues. The first year he tried out for Little League, at the age of 8, he was placed in a league with 11- and 12-year-olds because, as his father, Bob, explains, "if he played with 8-year-olds he'd probably hurt them."

The Senior Little League season before his first year of high school, Staton hit .800. He entered high school and played football, basketball and baseball. Sports had always been at the center of his existence--"David lived for sports," Bob said. In his sophomore year, he played football and basketball, but noticed after the end of basketball season an unusual soreness in his legs.

Chalking it up to the wear and tear of the hardwood he set out for baseball, but the soreness got worse. Two weeks later he couldn't walk without crutches.

"It was probably the scariest point in my life," Staton said.

Doctors ran tests and came up with nothing. Finally they injected dye into his legs and discovered blood clots. They diagnosed that the clots were caused by a disease called lupus.

Lupus is a form of arthritis that inflames the body's connective tissues and causes the immune system to produce antibodies that, instead of fighting off bacteria and virus, attack the body.

It took doctors awhile to diagnose the disease because, though 500,000 Americans are estimated to have lupus--more than 90% of them are women, according to the Lupus Chapter of Orange County.

Once diagnosed, doctors told Staton that football and basketball, and any other contact sport, were out. They were concerned that any jarring could move the clots from his legs to his lungs or brain and cause serious injury or perhaps death.

They also recommended that he not play baseball, worried of the same tragic result if he were hit by a pitch.

When he made the decision to play--"My love of the game just outweighed the dangers"--his parents supported him.

"You can't live your life in a glass cage," Bob said.

Dave signed a medical waiver releasing the school and doctors from responsibility if the worst happened.

"Now that I look back, that was a pretty big step for a 15-year-old kid to be making," Staton said. "But, if I was faced with the decision again, I know I'd do the same thing. I wouldn't blink."

Staton took medication for lupus for three years and the disease has been diagnosed as being in remission.

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