A Whole New Ball Game

updated 08/22/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/1994 01:00AM

GROWING UP IN INDIANA, DRAKE HOGESTYN WANTED to be the Pride of the Yankees. But his life has played more like an episode from his own daytime drama, Days of Our Lives—and he'll take it, especially this year. Named Hottest Male Star by Soap Opera Digest, the eight-year veteran of NBC's Lives has also won the Daytime TV Award for Best Actor and the Soap Opera Update Award for Best of the Best. In other ballots over the years, he has been voted Best Body, Best Chest, Best Voice and Best Kisser.

So what does such an incandescent number do with his summer vacation? Why, pack up his wife and kids and head back to his hometown of Fort Wayne, of course. As Hogestyn puts it: "I just want to stand in the corn." It turns out that the guy who sets female hearts a-fluttering as the mysterious and elusive John Black on Lives is a former minor leaguer in the New York Yankee system who is now married to his childhood Hoosier sweetheart and is devoted to her and their passel of kids. He is humble to a fault—and has no illusions about Hollywood and hunkdom. "My name can slide off the dressing-room door just as easily as it slid on," he says.

Hogestyn first learned that bit of fatalism on the playing field. Growing up the second of four children of a manufacturing executive, Bill, and a homemaker, Shug, Donald Drake Hogestyn was just about the hottest athlete in Fort Wayne. By 15 he knew he had a chance of making it as a professional ballplayer. He had also, it turned out, met his future wife, Victoria Post, then 12. He was playing ball and she rode by on her bike. "I didn't know how old she was," Hogestyn recalls, "but she was beautiful, very regal."

After graduating from Northside High, Hogestyn turned down an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals and later accepted a baseball scholarship to the University of South Florida in Tampa. In 1976, he got his degree in microbiology. Then Hogestyn, a hard-hitting third baseman, was drafted by the Yankees and assigned to the club's farm team in Oneonta, N.Y. At that point, however, his baseball career began to turn, literally and figuratively, into a soap opera. For starters, he and Victoria broke up. She stayed in Fort Wayne, married and had two children. Shortly thereafter Hogestyn suffered a serious foot injury that ultimately ended his baseball career. But not before he and some teammates, as a joke, entered a Columbia Pictures talent contest. "We used our middle names because they sounded weirder than our first names," says Hogestyn, who had always gone by Don.

One month later, in September 1978, Drake Hogestyn got a call from Joshua Shelley, director of talent at Columbia. Asked how he knew he could act, Hogestyn responded, "Pal, when the bases are drunk [loaded] and someone jacks a ball between your legs at your home park to let in the winning run, and you can stand there and act like nothing's wrong—that's acting." Shelley replied, "I'll see you in L.A."

A few weeks later, Hogestyn cleaned out his locker and headed for Los Angeles, where he soon signed a Columbia contract. He won a regular role in CBS's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and, in lean times, waited tables. Some five years had passed when he got word from home that Victoria's marriage was on the rocks. He recounts phoning her on Valentine's Day 1983. "I've done a national TV series, and there's a certain amount of money and notoriety, but there's a hell of a lot missing, and it's you," he told her. She answered: "I knew that if you were ever going to call, it would be today." Hogestyn flew to Indiana and went straight to Victoria's tiny farmhouse. "I was praying that she was fat and ugly and that her hair had fallen out," he says. "But as soon as she opened that screen door, I said, 'I'm sunk.' "

They married in 1984, but by then Hogestyn's acting career had turned cold, and he was about ready to pack it in. Instead he decided on one last audition...and the rest is soap-opera history. "I frankly thought the run on Days would be short-lived," he says. Victoria stayed in Fort Wayne until, after a year of steady work, Hogestyn began to believe the job might last for a while. Now they're all settled in a three-level house in Malibu: Drake; Victoria; her two children by her first marriage, Rachael, 15, and Ben, 12; and Drake and Victoria's two daughters, Whitney, 9, and Alexandra, 5.

Coworkers say Hogestyn is as much a favorite on the set as he is with his faithful female viewers. "He's a big goof," says Eileen Davidson, who plays Black's latest flame, Kristen. "But he's very professional and cares very much about what he does." That, says Hogestyn, comes from his days on the diamond. "Doing daytime is like baseball," he says. "You concentrate, you play every day—and you have fun."

MARK GOODMAN
LEAH FELDON-MITCHELL in Los Angeles

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