Got news? Looking at key facts in the Chris Davis timeline

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It’s the last day of the regular baseball season and for fans of the Baltimore Orioles there was a very bittersweet taste to the year. What does that have to do with religion-news coverage? While many will argue that baseball is a religion (click here for a classic), trust me that I will get to the real religion hook in this post soon enough.

While our O’s narrowly missed the playoffs, the team did have another winning season and made life uncomfortable for the Boston Red Sox. Do the math, people. It’s hard to have a winning season in the American League BEast. Cleveland Indian fans should feel thankful they are where they are.

Of course, one of the other big stories here in Charm City was Chris Davis and his Babe Ruth-ian season in terms of extra-base hits and home runs.

Although Davis has been a moon-shot slamming muscle man since high school, the rate at which he hit the long ball over the past 18 months or so raised predictable questions about performance-enhancing drugs. However, insiders noted that the big man actually lost weight entering this year and increased his foot speed, trends that rarely are linked to steroids.

So, if drugs weren’t the story, then what was the X-factor that helped calm down this anger-management case, allowing him to get his act together?

Simply stated, there is the baseball side and the personal-religious side. You would think that the two stories could be blended into one, but that does not appear to be a task The Baltimore Sun team is willing to attempt, other than the occasional tiny dose of vague God talk.

Here’s my question: What if it could be argued, looking at the timeline of the Davis lift-off into superstardom, that his marriage and his return to practicing the Christian faith of his youth were actually — in terms of on-the-record facts — crucial to this sports-news story? Should a newspaper go there, asking journalistic questions about those aspects of his life and including them as PART of the story?

With that question in mind, let’s look at the new Sun story about Davis’ year. Here is the overture:

Hank Aaron never hit as many as 53 home runs in a season. Neither did Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson nor Mike Schmidt.

So with 53 homers going into the final game, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is not only the most prolific single-season slugger in club history. He’s part of a select group that includes just 17 power hitters in baseball history.

As the Orioles wrap up their season Sunday, short of the playoffs, it’s worth reflecting on what a rare show Davis gave Baltimore fans in 2013. He found that hard to do himself, talking about his season the day after the Orioles were eliminated from postseason contention. “It’s hard to reflect and look back on personal accomplishments right now, because I still have a sour taste in my mouth,” Davis said.

So what happened? Can Davis keep it going?

Davis knows he will enter next season facing a level of outside expectation he’s never experienced. If he returns to his 2012 level — 33 home runs would’ve placed him top 10 in the majors this year — fans will crinkle their noses. But he doesn’t seem concerned.

“I’ve expected it for myself for a long time,” he said. “I had struggles in Texas, and I think that’s where I got away from it. I tried to be a player that everybody else wanted me to be instead of the player I knew I was capable of being. Obviously, when you hit 50-plus home runs in a season, you’re going to draw some attention to yourself, but I just hope that everybody counts on me to be there every day and compete. The numbers are going to be there at the end of the season.”

So that’s one valid way to write the end-of-the-year story. It’s the baseball exclusive approach. What would the personal approach look like?

To get that side, one needs to head over to Baptist Press, which sent a Maryland-based freelance writer over to get Davis’ on take on the year.

The story starts with the basic baseball facts — numbers, All-Star status, Sports Illustrated cover — but doesn’t stop there:

This all raises the question: What happened?

… For a Christian like Davis, his remarkable career path also speaks to a sovereign God who has outlined a unique course for him, filled with tough, life-shaping lessons.

“Looking back, I’ve grown so much not only as a man but as a Christian, knowing that there are times when it looks like there’s no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, but if you continue to put your faith in God, He’ll never steer you wrong,” he said.

OK, that’s church-publication material. To their credit, the Baptist Press team members then went on to put the personal-life elements of the Davis story into the baseball-story timeline. That’s the point that must be made, in the crucial years when the first-baseman faded in Texas and then was shipped to Baltimore.

The God-talk in this piece is very intense. Journalists will, however, want to keep looking at the timeline:

Davis, who doesn’t think he got a chance to prove himself in Texas, only played 45 games for the Rangers in 2010 and 28 in 2011. It was a frustrating time for a young player trying to make his mark.

Spiritually, Davis was floundering. He grew up attending First Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, and was baptized at age 6. But for a long time, Christianity was more ritual than relationship to him. He thought it was about church attendance and managing guilt. …

But the Lord was mercifully working on his heart. A humbling trip to the Dominican Republic for winter ball after the 2010 season helped refocus his faith. So did getting engaged to his wife Jill and the friendly counsel of former Rangers teammates David Murphy and Josh Hamilton, who encouraged him to spend time with God every day.

“It was more of a daily routine, making sure I was in the Word and praying and knowing what it meant to walk with the Lord,” Davis said. “We’d have chapel on Sundays. We’d talk about what was going on [in their lives]. The fact that they were older gave me more perspective.”

When Davis hit .362 with a team-high five home runs and 18 RBI in 2011 spring training and still started the regular season in the minor leagues, he knew his time in Texas was limited. But by then, he had developed a different outlook on the fickle nature of the game. He had learned to trust God and not wring his hands over every at-bat.

“I got to the point where, when I was at the field, I was going to work hard and do everything I could to be the best player I could be, and when I went home, I was going to enjoy my time,” he said. “I was going to enjoy being around my friends, my wife, and really try not to think about what was going on in baseball. I think that was really the biggest point — knowing that it is a game.”

The trade to Baltimore gave Davis a fresh start. In his first full major league season last year, he exploded.

I think it’s hard to look at the timeline of his life and not see this man’s marriage and return to the practice of his faith as part of the larger story of his new discipline as a player and the control he has displayed of his anger and perfectionism.

The bottom line: There are facts linked to faith and family that are part of the Chris Davis timeline. This is one story, not two different stories that have to remain unconnected.

Ask the questions. Look for the specific facts. Tell the story. It’s called journalism.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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