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Former great Davis reflects on past, present, future

NEW YORK -- Back in those days 15 years ago when a friend's wife made him home brews of teas and organics to help him play baseball through chemotherapy treatments and never give in to colon cancer, Eric Davis learned an important lesson.

Focus on the future and keep on going, keep driving, be stronger.

Today, No. 44 is a proud survivor with a purpose, and right now the baseball part of that purpose is to see the Reds win their first World Series title since he helped them there in 1990, and then to someday become a Major League general manager.

Davis, 50, is special assistant to Reds GM Walt Jocketty, playing a valuable role this past season in the progression of a club that won the National League Central in a "business atmosphere," and opens the Division Series Saturday at San Francisco.

"It's going well. At the end of the day, I'd like to be a general manager one day. I'd like to build a club," Davis said. "I think I have the fortitude and insight to do a very good job with that. I still have some things that I need to learn about particular aspects, such as what you can and cannot do with contract situations, things I'm still brushing up on."

Davis was at the MLB Fan Cave in Greenwich Village on Friday morning as part of MLB's ongoing "Legends are Born in October" marketing campaign. Davis played in three postseasons, with three different clubs. The first one was Cincinnati, which went wire-to-wire and swept Oakland in the 1990 World Series. The second was '97 with Baltimore, homering in the American League Championship Series against the Indians just months after being diagnosed. And, finally, in 2000 with the Cardinals.

His view on 2012's 10-team field?

"It's an open thing," Davis said. "I know the teams are very excited about it. The long, grueling, 162-game season, it's done. It's a breath of fresh air. You get a chance to take two steps back and regenerate your batteries and look forward to having a great postseason.

"I don't think anyone's a clear favorite that you can say should win. Anybody from the two Wild Card teams -- look at them, they've got 94, 95 wins. That's truly unheard of. It's not really a Wild Card in the division, when you talk about a game and a half or two games that separate you from playing today instead of tomorrow. It's been a phenomenal race, and you could just flip a coin, because it's a lot of great teams."

Davis said these Reds are poised to go well beyond 2010, when they finally got back into the field, but were swept by the Phillies.

"If you go back to 2010, it was easy [to explain]. You look at what the Phillies threw at us at that particular time. You get a no-hitter, you get [Cole] Hamels, and then you get Cliff Lee. I don't think any postseason team I could remember in a long time had three guys who are legitimate Cy Young Award winners.

"It was a learning process for us. We were young, we were exciting, we hadn't been there in a long time. But I think it's more of a business atmosphere now. We feel like we belong here, we proved that based on how we played all summer, when Joey Votto went down for 2 1/2 months, some guys grew up. Some guys exerted themselves and some guys actually came to play.

"With that said and done, we feel like we are ready to go deep into the playoffs, if not win the whole thing."

Davis gives credit to Reds president and CEO Bob Castellini for extending him and other alumni to come back into the organization and make a difference.

"You can't say enough about what Bob Castellini and his family have done," Davis said. "Not just for the players and ex-players, but for Cincinnati and the whole Tri-State area. It's a buzz. And it's not just a buzz because we've been winning, it's a buzz about how business is being run. It's a buzz about how influential they are in the community, how much they care, how much they give back, how much excitement they bring to the ballpark ... it is a recipe for success."

There was a time 15 years ago when Davis had a "recipe for success" all his own. Eric Anthony, his friend and one-time Reds teammate, was husband to a nutritionist who would help Davis get through an ordeal few could imagine.

Davis was diagnosed in 1997, disabled in late May, underwent surgery to remove the cancerous part of his colon, and returned to the Orioles on Sept. 15. He hit .474 despite continuing his treatment, including chemotherapy. That fall, he received the Roberto Clemente Award.

"Anytime you hear the word 'cancer' it automatically is synonymous with death, because that's what you think the actual outcome is going to be," Davis said. "I was blessed enough to be able to catch it in time. I had some phenomenal doctors, a lot of prayer and a lot of support from my family. But it was a situation where I didn't see anything preventing me from coming back. Baseball wasn't my No. 1 priority at that time. Me living a normal, healthy life was way more important.

"I actually played while I was taking chemo. [Anthony's] wife made me some home brews with a lot of different teas and stuff that helped me tremendously when I was taking chemo, because I never got sick or I never did anything like that. Just having good people around me, giving me good advice, outside of my beliefs, made the transitional period that easy for me to go out and play."

His message today?

"If I could say one thing, it's not a cliche, but it just goes back to what [former NC State basketball coach] Jimmy V [Valvano] said -- 'Don't [give] up.'"

And so here he is, focused on the future. But if you want, he'll tell you about the past.

"When you think about the postseason, you have to go with Reggie Jackson," he says. "I mean, the three home runs against the Dodgers. ... It's meant to be filled with legacies. There are so many great guys who have done great things, so it's hard to say one particular person, but if you have to, you've got to go with the guy who had the nickname Mr. October."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.
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