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

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?

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Preach, Brother Leitch, Preach!

Please check out this column from my favorite sportswriter Will Leitch. (And I’m not just saying that because he’s a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan like myself.) His latest piece for Sports on Earth, headlined “Thank God for Homers,” takes on the curious way that some other sportswriters handle Josh Hamilton’s religious utterances.

It’s basically a public service announcement to sports writers. But it works as a PSA for all writers, particularly those of us from different religious cultures than evangelical. It begins:

In a column this morning about Josh Hamilton, the one-time universally beloved All-Star who is having a rough go of it during his first month as an Anaheim Angel, Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers asks Hamilton a snide, sorta condescending question.

Hamilton, who became a born-again Christian after his well-publicized struggles with substance abuse, tells Simers that, when fans are booing him, he turns to his faith, and The Bible, for strength. Simers, perhaps predictably, has a sniggering, obnoxious response.

“Does it mention anywhere in the Bible,” [Simers] asked, “what it takes to hit more home runs?”

Leitch explains that many people dislike athletes thanking God for their achievements. Drives them crazy, he says. They dislike the notion that God cares about little things like sports accomplishments. And they dislike the notion that God favors one team over another. Sportswriters roll their eyes and shut down their tape recorders when God gets mentioned. But, Leitch says, there’s a huge disparity between what these athletes are saying, and what the writers are hearing. For instance:

When Josh Hamilton won the Home Run Derby in 2008, here’s what he said afterward: “It’s amazing, the last few years, what God’s done in my life, and how quickly he’s done it.”

Now, here’s what non-believers hear when he says that:

God decided that I would start hitting a ton of home runs. He likes me more than He likes anyone else in this competition. Therefore, he made me win. I am so close to God that He has decided I should win this Home Run Derby. A couple of those balls I hit, God picked them up and carried them extra feet so they would get over the fence. God cares, specifically, about this Home Run Derby, more than he cares about poverty, starvation and disease. If God liked you as much as he liked me, you might hit home runs too. But he doesn’t.

But this is absolutely not what he is saying.

What Hamilton is saying when he thanks God is not that God somehow chose him over others. He is in fact saying the opposite: It is a humble acknowledgment that nothing any person does can ever be attributable to themselves. It’s a guard against pride.

Christianity isn’t some peripheral notion of Hamilton’s life; it is his life. When you live a Christian life, everything you do, from showing up to church on Sunday, to going to the grocery store, to pumping gas, to hitting a home run, to striking out, is done for the glory of Christ. Hamilton isn’t thanking Jesus for helping him hit a homer; he is thanking Jesus for everything. From the homers to the strikeouts to the millions of dollars to all the boos.

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USA Today: Jesus’ hometown was … Jerusalem

I make no secret of my allegiance to God, my family and the Texas Rangers.

So yes, when Rangers superstar slugger Josh Hamilton was “called way out west over the winter by God and $125 million,” as Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports columnist Randy Galloway described it, I felt jilted. And yes, when Hamilton — now an Anaheim Angel — struck out twice in his return to Rangers Ballpark on Friday, I rejoiced at his expense (and may have scared the neighbors).

As those who have followed Hamilton (here at GetReligion and elsewhere) know, the former No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft hit rock bottom before a return to the sport’s Promised Land. He credits his recovery to his Christian faith. So not surprisingly, he spoke in religious terms after going 0-for-4 in the Angels’ 3-2 loss to my Rangers yesterday. As one of my Facebook friends described it:

I learned something new from Josh Hamilton — apparently Jesus was booed the most in Nazareth because it wasn’t a baseball town.

Another person on Facebook pointed out that the Bible actually starts with a baseball reference. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the big inning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Humor aside, I have an actual GetReligion-related reason for this post. In reading various stories about the boos Hamilton received in Texas, I came across a USA Today story that included this interesting nugget:

Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125 million free-agent contract with the rival Angels, says he used the power of prayer to get him through the day. He even brought up the story of Jesus being rebuked in Jerusalem, saying it was the same for him being abused in his hometown.

Really.

“Somebody came and shared that with me,” Hamilton said. “Where did people get on Jesus the most? In his hometown. It’s one of those things, where baseball-wise, this is my hometown. They got after it.”

Um, is it me or does USA Today think Jesus’ hometown was Jerusalem? (It wouldn’t be the first time, of course, that a major news organization got such a simple fact wrong.)

Luke 4:16-30 (not to mention Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:53-58) tells of Jesus going to his hometown of Nazareth and making his statement about a prophet having no honor in his hometown.

The Scriptures say that Jesus did not do many miracles there because of the people’s lack of faith.

Perhaps that explains Hamilton’s abysmal performance in recent outings in Texas.