Davis not quite ready to wake up from dream season
O's slugger leads Majors in homers, ready for first All-Star appearance
BALTIMORE -- Chris Davis had a dream last month that he was traded back to Texas.
The ridiculous premise of the imaginary deal -- Davis for injured Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and some pitching -- didn't stop it from seeming real, and in the dream, Davis stormed into Orioles manager Buck Showalter's office and tried to fist-fight him.
"He goes, 'Well, I hope you would try to beat me up,'" Davis said of Showalter's reaction the next day in Toronto when he relayed the dream's events. "It felt so real. I woke up and was breathing heavy and just was like, 'Ahh!'"
Most mornings start considerably better for Davis, who tied Reggie Jackson's American League record from 1969 for most homers before the All-Star break with his Major League-leading 37th shot Sunday against the Blue Jays. Last month, Davis became the first player in baseball history to have at least 30 homers and 25 doubles before July. If the team is home and it's been a while -- perhaps a few games -- between homers, Davis' wife, Jill, will make sweet potato pancakes.
The breakfast, Davis' favorite, isn't an everyday thing. As Davis explains, it was only recently that the couple, married in 2011, figured out the correlation between the pancakes and his homers, and it's become a secret weapon of sorts to help avoid long power outages. That two-run homer off Justin Masterson on June 25, his first in four games, was a pancake morning. So was the one against the Angels last month that stopped an eight-game homerless stretch.
Jill is already looking into the kitchen situation at the hotel for next week's All-Star Game, where Davis -- the AL's top vote-getter -- will start at first base and participate in Monday's Chevrolet Home Run Derby. They could, of course, go somewhere to get pancakes, but it wouldn't be the same.
And what Davis is doing, having already set career highs in homers and RBIs on a historical run through the first three-plus months of the season, is nothing if not distinctive.
Go ahead try to find a comparison for the 27-year-old's meteoric rise in his sixth season in the big leagues after flaming out in the Texas organization with whispers of being a 4A player. Baseball is filled with late-bloomers, but none who have stormed the record books with Davis' gusto, particularly after such a fall from grace.
Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who turned it around later in his career, was never a touted prospect. Josh Hamilton's story is punctuated with substance abuse, and he hit 32 homers with 130 RBIs in his second full big league season.
Meanwhile, the Rangers had Chris Davis Day at the ballpark, where buses of the Texas native's family, friends -- even elementary school teachers -- were brought up to Arlington to see the hot young rookie, nicknamed 'Crush Davis' after an impressive start, suit up for his hometown club in 2008.
Davis was still on the Triple-A Round Rock shuttle when traded to Baltimore midway through 2011, having played in 28 big league games, with three homers and six RBIs, and still searching for consistent big league success in his fourth season.
"Any hitter that has had as good of a three months as this kid has had? I've never seen anybody do it," Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley said of Davis, who has 62 extra-base hits, 10 more than anyone else in the AL entering Saturday. "And I've seen Miguel Cabrera a lot [when he was the Marlins]. He hit .344 one year [with Detroit], won the batting title. But I've never seen anybody be this offensive for three months."
They still talk about Davis at Round Rock, the season-ticket holders for the Rangers affiliate pointing to the groundskeeper's building way out in center field as they tell you how they watched Davis send a ball sailing over it. No one has come close since.
It's a tradition at The Dell Diamond when one of the Express players homer to pass the helmet around the stands and collect money. The cash is divided up, part goes to charity, part to the player and the rest for the team's meal money. Davis, who hit 24 home runs in 48 Triple-A games before being traded to Baltimore, bought a lot of dinners.
"The first time you saw him, you went, 'Oh my god, what is this?" said Round Rock manager Bobby Jones, who initially had Davis when he was promoted to the Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City in 2008. "It was stand back and watch. He grew up and figured something out and basically he is doing in the big leagues what he did in Triple-A. USA Today had a thing [in the paper] about trying to figure out how to pitch to Davis, and they had a picture of his swing and all the home runs he's hit to different parts of the park. Where can you pitch to him? It's unbelievable what he's doing."
"I didn't just say, 'OK, I think I'll be good now. I'm tired of [stinking]'," Davis said. "Everybody's like, 'What's your secret?' I've always been a good hitter, I've just never been a good hitter at the big league level. What no one is talking about is how much pressure was really on me last season, because if I hadn't performed last year, it probably would have been my last shot.
"It was like, 'OK, we are going to give you 500 at-bats, we are going to see what you are made of. If you [stink], you are probably going to be shipped out'. This year it's been easy to just enjoy it, go out and have a good time."
Gregarious and accommodating, Davis' personality stands out in the Orioles clubhouse nearly as much as the neon tank top and sliding shorts he frequently dons for early batting practice. He is a likeable, goofy character who doesn't take himself too seriously -- with a tiny American flag tank top hanging from his locker on Fourth of July -- unless it is any sort of competition.
Take the team's trip to Oakland earlier this year, when reliever Darren O'Day and Davis were locked in a battle of Rock Me Archimedes. The game consists of a wooden board that rocks like a teeter-totter, a special die and 28 marbles and requires enough strategy and skill to be the first player to get four marbles on their end without reaching the tipping point. O'Day's win didn't go over well in the visiting clubhouse.
"Actually, he threw the board game," reliever Tommy Hunter said of Davis' reaction to losing, which involved one swift motion to clear the pieces from the table. "He yelled, 'It's not a real game unless you can win with your muscles!'"
And with those muscles comes a cloud of suspicion, with a national columnist recently taking on Davis and questioning if baseball's best story was a product of performance-enhancing drugs. With each home run, the whispers get louder, accusations that have flooded in at such a rate they caused the slugger to disable his Twitter account. Davis is not shy about his stance on steroids or the fact that he believes Roger Maris' 61 homers is the true single-season record. He's aware that with each home run the questions get louder and that his story is more than just a twenty-something infielder finding himself: It could forever cement him in baseball lore.
"I kind of like the fact that no one has done it before," Davis said of the eye-popping fashion in which he's undergone a career revival. "Now, I just have to deal with all the steroid stuff. The thing that upsets me about it, is the players before us that were in the steroid era are like, 'Well you have to deal with it because the guys before you, they had to deal with it,' yada-yada. It's still been available to us and we decided not to do it. Just because you made poor choices doesn't mean we are going to, and now in baseball anyone who struggles or all of a sudden figures it out [gets accused]. It's such a cop out."
Davis is 15 pounds lighter this year, an adjustment which has made him more agile in the field and he believes has helped expand his power zone, with home runs hit off every imaginable pitch and location. Gone is the mindset that he needed to "look the part" of the Orioles' middle-of-the-order bat -- which is why he added bulk last spring -- or the neurosis that every good game needs to be preceded by a meticulous regimen. He has a solid pregame routine. It just doesn't involve putting deodorant on at a certain time, with a certain arm first, the kind of neurosis he had while trying to stick in the Texas years. There is a balance and Davis appears to finally have found it.
"I glance a lot in the dugout of the guys, look at faces, and he's a concentrator," Showalter said. "He's more than some guy overpowering the game physically. I think that's what I want people to get about him. It's more than that. He's a good hitter. He's not just some guy colliding with the ball."
Nor does he want to be.
Presley sets goals with every one of his guys at the start of the season, and his meeting with Davis was more of an auction, as the 27-year-old haggled with his hitting coach to push up his batting average.
"I said, 'I had a good year last year, I had a solid year, but I want to hit closer to .300'," said Davis, who finished with a .270/.326/.501 line that included 33 homers and 85 RBIs. "I hit .370 in the Minor Leagues. I feel like I have the ability. Is it going to take some work? Absolutely. It's hard to hit .300 up here. There's not a lot of guys who can do it. But I feel like I have the ability to hit from .285-.300 with the power numbers. Does that mean I'm going to do it? We'll find out."
Preferably without the fist-fighting.
"Does that classify as a nightmare?," Showalter mused of Davis' dream. "I'd say that's a nightmare for us. No, we talk about stuff like that all the time. He's funny. But he takes it a little more serious than people think."