A View from Studio 3: O's Davis flying high
After struggling in Texas, Baltimore slugger finding his way post-trade
The ballpark was silent as Chris Davis took his home-run swing. Then camera clicks. Lots of them. Still no cheers. No bat flip. No jog around the bases. The Orioles' slugger remained frozen, standing tall and confident while enjoying his latest moment in the sun.
This moment took place hours before game time during a photo shoot at Camden Yards. Minutes later, Davis joked that he likes to come to the park and have people take pictures of him doing random things.
"It's good for my confidence. Its makes me feel good about myself," Davis said.
In reality, the shoot was for a bobblehead day promotion that may feature the 6-foot-3 first baseman. Davis points out he is the leading vote getter in the Orioles' AT&T Fans' Choice Bobblehead contest and adds, "It will look funny if I don't get it."
It's obvious that while Davis jokes about confidence, it's no longer an issue for the strapping Texan. Such is life in 2013 for one of the American League's elite run-producers. Since his trade to the Orioles from the Rangers in 2011, his life and career has taken a major turn for the better.
A few years ago, Davis was best known for his potential. Stuck behind Mitch Moreland and Justin Smoak at first base on a Rangers team with high expectations, he had issues making consistent contact at the big league level, a common problem for young players with remarkable power.
"The years I struggled in Texas, I was going back and forth between a guy who was gonna get on base and a guy who was trying to drive runs in," Davis said.
The numbers reflect that reality. Between 2008-2010, Davis struck out in a whopping 34 percent of his at-bats. He never looked completely comfortable. He showed occasional flashes of dominance. It never lasted.
John Hart, the Rangers' senior adviser of baseball operations at the time, said the club loved Davis' athleticism, defense and power, but his confidence waned and, over time, so did the team's confidence in him. Hart recalls that before the trade, he warned that Davis has the ability to be a "haunter" if they ever sent him packing, adding you don't find athletic, elite power guys very often.
Reluctant to package Davis in a trade, the Rangers threw caution to the wind, believing they had a great shot to win their second consecutive American League pennant. At the 2011 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Rangers sent Davis, along with pitcher Tommy Hunter, to Baltimore in exchange for elite relief pitcher Koji Uehara and cash.
The Rangers did capture the pennant before losing a heartbreaking World Series to the Cardinals. As for Davis, his career was about to take off.
"I was relieved I was going to get an opportunity to play every day and get a fresh start," Davis said. "You've heard about guys that have had their careers rejuvenated by going to other places. I was hoping that would be the case with me, and it has been."
Last season, at the same time the Orioles started grabbing national headlines, Davis exploded in his first season as an everyday player, hitting 35 homers while driving in 86 runs. The Orioles reached the postseason for the first time in 15 years. Coincidentally, Baltimore defeated Texas in the first-ever Wild Card Playoff. Davis went 1-for-4 in Baltimore's victory.
Davis and the Orioles came into this season with the belief that the combination of talent, chemistry and experience would take them back to the postseason. Interestingly, Davis' personal goals revolved around defense. His mission was to become the Orioles' everyday first baseman. When fellow slugger Mark Reynolds departed for Cleveland in free agency, Davis had the position all to himself.
"For me, it was tough not knowing if I was going to play left, right, DH or first," Davis said. "I think I really appreciated the fact [manager] Buck [Showalter] gave me the heads-up and said, 'Look, this is what we're gonna do.' It's paid off defensively and offensively to go in there and have a steady routine every day."
It's not a coincidence that at the exact same time Davis has broken out, the Orioles have developed into a force, playing with confidence and consistency. Behind the scenes, Davis says, it's a close-knit and loose club that routinely produces dramatic wins. When they come up short, there's no panic. Their skipper sets the tone.
"We've had a few rough games this year, but guys aren't hanging their heads," Davis said. "They're not worrying about one or two things that cost us the game. It's more about what are we gonna do to better ourselves and carry a positive attitude out there every day."
Davis is a microcosm of an Orioles team that seems to be getting better and better -- serious about business, but still enjoying the moment. On his current track, Davis may soon turn into a superstar. Even if he doesn't get his own bobblehead.