Davis feeling pain, but keeping his faith Therapy, prayer sustain slugger

June 09, 1991|By Bill Glauber

Some nights, after enduring three hours of physical therapy, after talking to the doctor, after fielding ground balls, after

running and stretching in the outfield, after spending one hour lifting weights, after watching the game from the bench, after showering and dressing, after pausing to talk with a friend or a fan, Glenn Davis will walk slowly across the cool grass to the left-field bullpen of the darkened, empty stadium.

He will sit and stare at the stars, reflecting upon the weeks spent laboring to heal his body, wondering if his career has been interrupted or ended.

And, then, he will pray.

"I have a lot of faith in God, and I believe in miracles," Davis says. "With an injury like I have, one that not a lot of people know much about, that's what you have left -- faith. I ask the Lord to touch and heal me and make me strong. That's where I put my trust to make me well."

Therapy and faith have sustained Davis through a season that has become a trial. He was brought from Houston to Baltimore to help lead the Orioles to the top of the American League's East division. Instead, he has been on the disabled list since April 26 with an injury to the spinal accessory nerve in his neck. The injury remains mysterious and maddening, a reminder of the limits of medical knowledge and the unpredictability of baseball.

Davis is patient. The Orioles are patient. No one has written off Davis' season, but no date of return has been posted. The Orioles traded Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling to acquire Davis. He will make $3.275 million this season before becoming a free agent. All the Orioles have to show for their investment is 12 games played, four home runs and eight RBI.

"Glenn's future is the main focal point," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "You feel sorry for him. You just know that he's raring at the bit to be part of producing for the Orioles. You can see that he is so genuine wanting to help the ballclub. I'm encouraged that he will play this year."

Davis appears to be a healthy, strapping 30- year-old first baseman in the prime of his career. But when he opens his Orioles jersey and points to his right shoulder, he reveals the severity of his injury. Just above his collarbone, there is an indentation, forming a deep, unsightly pocket of flesh. The nerve injury has affected the sterno-cleidomastoid muscle, which runs down the right side of the neck, and the trapezius muscle, which is involved in moving the right shoulder and lifting the arm.

"There used to be a Grand Canyon there before," he said.

After feeling a twinge in his neck during an exhibition game March 12, Davis played not in pain, but in fear. His right shoulder was becoming disfigured. His strength was dissipating. By the middle of April, he couldn't lift his right arm to comb his hair or sip a drink.

"My whole symmetry was out of place," he said. "It was just obvious. You would have said, 'What is this guy doing out there? He should be in the hospital.' I'd get down. I noticed something was wrong. I have a good arm, and I couldn't throw. I didn't know where the ball was going. I'm thinking, 'Man, what is happening?' And I'm thinking, 'Don't quit.' That battle was tough."

Still, he pressed on. A man who proudly wore the label of "gamer," who routinely played through injuries great and small, who averaged 31 home runs and 96 RBI with the Astros during the four seasons up to 1990, was not going to give up. Yet when he was called upon by then-manager Frank Robinson to pinch hit in a game against the Chicago White Sox April 24, he was terrified.

"I was scared to death that I would rip my whole shoulder out," he said. "Frank asked me to pinch hit, and I'm not going to say no. I picked up the bat and realized that I had not done one thing all day with my right arm."

Davis hit a home run. He felt no pain.

"I was shocked and amazed," he said. "But I knew there was a problem."

So began the weeks of doubt, the hospital tour that stretched from Baltimore to Cleveland to Inglewood, Calif., the milogram that gave him a 10-day headache, the needles that gave him the jitters, the search for answers that finally led to a program of rest and rehabilitation.

Always, there were questions. He didn't want a media circus. He watched and cringed as Bo Jackson hobbled from doctor to doctor trailed by newsmen.

"The last thing you want to do is not play," he said. "Emotionally and mentally, it's heartbreaking."

Now, he works and waits. He draws strength from his family, enjoying barbecues by the pool of his new home in Baltimore County, spending time with his wife Teresa and daughters Sharayah, 4, Tiffany, who turns 3 later this month, and Gabrielle, 10 months.

"My wife is helping me see things as they are," he said. "She encourages me. She pumps me up when I'm down. Physical therapy is strenuous, tedious and time-consuming. She is helping me deal with all of that."

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