Sometimes, I wish that baseball meant less to me than it does. Can I get an “amen,” Bobby Ross, Jr.?
When judging levels of sports loyalty, it is absolutely crucial to take into account whether fans stick with their favorite teams during bad times, as well as good. In a way, it’s like going to church. True believers are in their pews or stadium seats during the bad times, as well as the good times.
So I am going to write about Chris Davis of my Baltimore Orioles — again — even though many GetReligion readers could care less about this slugger and his historic slump at the plate. I am going to write about this story — again — because there is an important journalism point to be made.
Here it is: When writing about public figures who are religious believers, you cannot write about what is happening in their hearts and heads (and, yes, their souls) without asking questions about religion.
Consider this ESPN headline atop a story that ran when Davis broke his MLB-record slump at the plate: “How Chris Davis snapped, embraced baseball's most epic oh-fer.”
The key word is “embraced,” which implies that he managed to come to terms with the slump and faced the reality of it. In other words, there is more to this story than taking extra batting practice. Something had to be done at the level of head and heart.
Another ESPN headline, on a different feature, captured the agony of all of this: “ 'I hear the people every night': Inside Chris Davis' 0-for-54 streak.” The key word here is “inside,” as in “inside” the head and heart of the man who is enduring this agony.
So did ESPN pros factor in this outspoken Christian believer’s faith? Did they talk to his pastor? The team chaplain? Did they take faith seriously, as a factor in this man and his struggles?
Wait for it.
Here’s the overture in that first ESPN story that I mentioned, the one with “embraced” in the headline:
BOSTON -- When the longest hitless streak in major league history ended and when the Baltimore Orioles wrapped up their sixth victory of the season with a 9-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Chris Davis channeled his inner Rocky Balboa and walked into the visitors clubhouse with his fists above his head, a smile streaking across his face. His teammates prepared a hero's welcome too, banging the walls of their lockers, turning the scene into an impromptu "STOMP" performance. Davis looked around at the joy emanating from his teammates and felt a weight lift off his shoulders.
No more questions about when he'd get a hit again. No more questions for his teammates about his slump. No more bars offering free drinks contingent on Davis' notching his first hit of the season. No more worries about a historic slump.
"It was the elephant in the room for a while," Davis said.
At 33, Davis is the oldest player on one of the youngest rosters in the league -- the Orioles' average age is 27.79 years old. There's only so much someone can do when he finds himself in the middle of the biggest slump in major league history. Davis did everything in his control, especially the past five days. The Orioles' youngsters all took note.
"He continued to show us how to be a professional," 24-year-old Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins said. "Going through the struggles that he has, he kept his chin up no matter what. To witness that in person, it'll help me maintain my composure when I go through the same thing."
Oh well. Click here.
That silence on the personal issues continues throughout the story. Later on, there is this:
After the game, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde seemed relieved that for the first time this season he'd be taking positive questions about Davis. With a big smile on his face, Hyde highlighted the example Davis set the past two weeks, amid the worst stretch of his major league career.
"You just learn about him. This guy is tough. This guy is mentally tough. To persevere through that, the spotlight on him, everybody is talking about him, to see him talking about it on TV," Hyde said. "To see him be the same guy every day and put in so much extra time ... to see the results work out for him, it's a great feeling."
Davis is “tough”? He manages to remain the “same guy” in the locker room no matter what?
OK, I’ll ask: How does Davis do that?
The irony is that ESPN produced another piece that made it clear that — toughness aside — the streak was causing pain that attacked a man’s spirit, as well as his skills. Check out this passage from the “inside” ESPN story:
At the Orioles' home opener last week, fans at Camden Yards were merciless in their treatment of Davis. Knowing full well he hadn't recorded a hit since the middle of September, they booed him when he ran down the orange carpet during pregame intros. They booed him in his first at-bat and each AB after that, getting progressively saltier each time. When he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, the crowd gave a sarcastic standing ovation.
"It's not something I was really expecting. It was tough," Davis said after the game. "At the same time, I heard it a lot last year, and rightfully so. I've said it before, I'll say it again -- I understand the frustration. Nobody's more frustrated than I am."
Davis was so frustrated that at the end of the home opener, which the Orioles lost 8-4 to the Yankees, he tossed his batting gloves -- the brand-new pair he'd busted out expressly for the occasion -- into the dugout trash can. When he got back into the clubhouse, instead of putting the pants of his uniform in the laundry basket like players do after every single game, he threw those in the trash, too.
Once again, zero faith content.
So what does Davis — the actual Christian man — sound like when a reporter asks him a faith question about what is happening inside his heart, head and, yes, soul? Well, this Western Journal feature noted that the slugger’s “Christian faith has carried him through good times and bad, has turned to God amid his current difficulties.”
Near the start of the slump, Davis told Sports Illustrated:
“One of the biggest misconceptions of the gospel, in my mind, is that you have to be perfect,” Davis told Stephanie Apstein. … “That is the complete opposite of the truth. Christ paid for our sins on the cross knowing that we would never be able to measure up.”
Here’s Jill Davis, the first baseman’s wife, quoted in that same early slump feature:
“You’re right where God needs you to be. … In the clubhouse, in the community, in the city of Baltimore, your words carry a lot of weight,” she told her husband. “But your testimony speaks so much louder when you struggle.”
The question is this: Do reporters actually want to know what Davis is going through? Do they actually care about the details of this story that they are trying to write?
If so, talk to Chris Davis. Ask questions about this very important set of facts in his life.
Just do it.