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Catching Up With ... Eric Davis

Each Tuesday in the Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and let's you know what's going on in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ..."

He spent only two years in Baltimore, but few players have touched Orioles fans more deeply than Eric Davis.

It was here that Davis learned he had colon cancer, here that he fought it and here that he beat it. When the Orioles outfielder hit a dramatic ninth-inning home run against the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the 1997 American League Championship Series – with chemotherapy drugs coursing through his veins – all of baseball applauded.

Eric Davis connects for a solo homer off Paul Assenmacher in the ninth inning of the 1997 ALCS.

The pinch-hit blast won the game for the Birds and froze Davis’ image forever.

"I will be a role model for cancer patients for the rest of my life," he said. "But you know what? When I was getting chemo, those people inspired me.

"Circulating through the children’s ward and seeing terminally ill kids, heads shaved, smiling and having a ball despite the tubes and needles sticking into them, I thought: What do I have to worry about? If God takes me, at least I’ve lived for 35 years.

"Every (get-well) letter I got touched my heart; I kept them all. But those patients helped me more than I ever could have helped them."

Now 46, his cancer long in remission, Davis works for the Cincinnati Reds as special assistant to the general manager. Plagued by injuries in his 18-year career, he’s in good health despite the 13 surgeries he had as a player. Nor does his six-month-old granddaughter make him feel aged.

"I’ve asked her to please call me ‘paw-paw,’ " Davis said. " ‘Grandpa’ sounds so old."

There were times when, as an Oriole, his life seemed at risk. Signed as a free agent in 1997, the two-time All-Star was diagnosed with cancer that May. Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital removed a tumor the size of an orange from his colon, then started Davis on chemotherapy. His season, if not his career, appeared over.

But Davis nursed himself into shape and, in mid-September, returned to the game to pinch-hit amid a tumultuous greeting at Camden Yards.

"Walking up to the plate, well, no words can describe it," he said. "There was a lump in my throat. I tried to step into the batter’s box, but the fans wouldn’t let me. The (ovation) must have gone on for two minutes."

Davis glanced left and right to see both dugouts empty in a nod to his courage.

"That was, like, whoa," he said. "After that, all I could think was, ‘Don’t mess up.’ "

Davis flied out to deep center field. Several weeks later, his ninth-inning homer off the Indians' Paul Assenmacher helped the Orioles take Game 5, 4-2. But he never boasts about that.

"I was called on to do a job, and I did it," he said.

Despite a banner year in 1998 in which he led the Orioles in batting (.327), hit 28 homers and connected safely in 30 straight games, the club cut him loose at season’s end. The move still irks Davis.

"Not being re-signed in Baltimore was probably the lowest point, mentally, of my career," he said. "That city was the only place where I wanted to be at the time, based on everything that had transpired."

Davis played three more years, then retired. A Los Angeles resident, he has created a foundation to raise money for oncology research. He’s a spokesman for colon cancer prevention. And he’ll never forget those who spurred his recovery.

Earlier this year, in spring training, a spectator waved to Davis as he stood on the field before a Reds game.

"Hi Eric," Keith Lillemoe said. "Remember me?"

Lillemoe was the Hopkins surgeon who had removed Davis’ tumor. It had been 12 years, but Davis knew him. Bear hugs followed.

"You don’t forget people like that," Davis said.

Photos: Top (AP); Bottom (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Comments

Mike:

Great piece on former Oriole outfielder Eric Davis. Glad to hear he's doing well and still working in baseball. I have a suggestion for a new "catching up with". Former Baltimore Colts WR Roger Carr (who used to catch those bombs from Bert Jones).

Thanks

Rather ironic that this player would be mentioned at this time. We have a center fielder that appears to be the Eric Davis type. Which for the Orioles is a VERY good thing.
But most of all lets hope the the changes made recently to the club image and internal make up has radically change. The idea that Eric was not resigned the following year shows the TOTAL LACK of CLASS and attention to the fans that this team was.
Thanks for the memory, And Eric Thanks to you for being an Oriole.

Thank you for your Eric Davis update. One of the most poignant days of my life was connected with Eric Davis. I was in The Yard the night he returned to the lineup after months of chemo and treatment, a rare weekday doubleheader. On my way to the games, I stopped to see one of my best friends from high school (now almost 30 years after high school). She was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. I visited as a friend and a pastor and we had Communion together, a very special moment for us. To be with her and then watch Eric in his triumphant return is something I'll never forget. And I'm so pleased that both are healthy and doing well.

Thanks for this!! Sadly, I think much of Baltimore agrees with Eric on the off-season moves. After '97, it was all downhill for the O's. Lost in all that groaning about Albert Belle, here was the epitome of heart and courage, right here in our midst. And how many times that has repeated itself here under current ownership...

there will never be another Eric Davis, he played for the love of the game not the paycheck. Should be an inspiration to everyone, especially the young O's.

Mike,

Love these updates. They bring back some great memories. Glad to see your still hangining in there.

Best wishes from a former colleague and fellow Carroll County resident.

Eric Davis was a great ball player and did a fantastic job>>but Angelos raised his dumb%^# head and made another stupid move> Folks, the reason we are in last place again and again is Angelos. Hope this time he stays out of day to day running of the team and just maybe we can HOPE for a 500 season.

My father was diagnosed with colon cancer in the same year - and he admitted that if Eric Davis' story hadn't been in the news at the time he may not have been so quick to have his symptoms checked out by a doctor.

He had his surgery in February 1998 and he's been healthy ever since.

I'll always have a warm place in my heart for Eric Davis - both as an Orioles fan and a grateful daughter.

The cancer raised Davis's profile in a way, but he never had it easy, and was always a totally committed player and class act. I don't think there is a soul in Baltimore who didn't think well of him as both a player and a man, and wouldn't have wished him to stay--except for PA, natch'. I hope the O's get it right with the Second Coming--AJ.

Eric Davis was definitely a catch for the O's: maybe the F.O. thought it'd caught its limit.

It's great to hear ED is cancer-free and a grandpa! Folks, please learn from Eric Davis' experience and get checked out. In the US, 50,000 patients die of colorectal cancer every year. Apparently, from several sites and interactive graphs I checked out to make this post, prevalence as well as mortality rate is slightly higher for black patients than white. Having a colonoscopy doesn't hurt and could save your life.

I remember when he came back to the O's that September. I remeber him walking out to the Superman theme and tiping his hat to the crowd. I still get chills thinking about that.

Thanks for the great article. It brings back fond memories. Eric was a great patient and a class act. He spent much of his time while getting chemotherapy himself talking to other patients and offering encouragement. It was great to see him in Sarasota. He related how important the Oriole fans were in his recovery and getting back on the field fo them was his #1 goal. Dont forget that Boog Powell will also be 12 years out from his colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy. I was back in town for a game and saw him at his post at the barbecue. He looks great. Keith Lillemoe, MD

It's sad that some people will take an article about such a class person and outstanding player as Eric Davis as an opportunity to make negative comments towards the organization now. I do believe it was a poor decision, both from a baseball and a business standpoint, to not bring ED back for the 1999 season. However, that doesn't mean I should use this forum to rant against the organization.

Eric was one of my favorite players as I watched him blossom into superstardom in Cincinnati. I was ecstatic to see him come to Baltimore so I could watch him in person. I'm so glad to hear that he is doing well, and I wish him the best. As someone who had an uncle die from colon cancer in his late 40's, it's scary what this disease can do to otherwise healthy young men. Get yourself checked out.

Eric Davis was hands down my favorite player the two years we had him here. I still remember being 10 years old and writing 24 on all of my t-shirts as a tribute to him to beat his cancer. So glad to hear he's doing so well. I am also still "irked" by Angelos' dumb decision not to resign a courageous class act like Davis. Although, only two years with the squad...still my second favorite O behind Cal.

Mike, Thanks for checking in with Eric. What an inspiration he's been for so many. The Orioles should have kept him so he could have ended his career in the black and orange.

It also was good to see a post from Dr. Lillemoe reminding us about Boog, who, along with ED, is living proof that with early detection cancer need not be a death sentence.

The only thing I wish is that you would have asked Eric his opinion of Adam Jones, a player with whom he is often compared.

Along with everyone else, I thought this was a great article and a great series. The only thing that would make it better is if it was more frequent. I am eaher to here more more about Os from the 1960s.

It was the only place we wanted you to be as well, Eric. Have fun, "Paw Paw"

It speaks to Eric Davis's remarkable character that he would even be working for the Cincinnati Reds organization after what the team's racist owner, Marge Schott, said about him, her greatest player ever.
Davis is pure class. Marge Schott should have been banned from baseball long before she was forced to sell the team. Her racism will forever be a cloud over the game.

Eric Davis signed his picture for my Dad when my Dad was dying of cancer in 1998. Eric's fight and comeback inspired my Dad even though he knew he wasn't going to make it. I have that pic now. Thanks Eric for that gesture.

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