Davis puts new face on cancer

September 12, 1997|By John Eisenberg

On Wednesday, Eric Davis took two hours of chemotherapy treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Yesterday, he took three rounds of swings during batting practice at Camden Yards.

Now there's a comeback.

"And he looks great, too," Orioles hitting coach Rick Down said after watching Davis before last night's game against the Yankees. "He's got his power, he's got his quickness. It's like he never missed a day."

Has cancer ever looked like this before?

Not often enough, that's for sure.

Davis is a walking contradiction to the sallow faces, broken spirits and other depressing images so often conjured by the disease and its long, painful recoveries.

He is seven weeks into a 22-week course of chemo, but he put on a uniform yesterday and hit a handful of balls into the seats.

"If you didn't know better," Down said, "you would look at him and say, 'Yeah, that's Eric Davis.' There's really nothing different about him."

It's a story being played out behind the scenes and away from the crowds as the Orioles drive for the playoffs, but it's a story of increasing drama and inspiration -- and relevance.

Just as the Yankees were motivated by the saga of Frank Torre's heart transplant a year ago, the Orioles are finding inspiration in Davis' comeback.

How can they not?

Three months after cancer surgery, seven weeks after starting his chemotherapy treatments and two weeks after the death of his only brother, he is on the verge of playing again for the best team in baseball.

"He could probably run the bases for me now," manager Davey Johnson said.

It's a face of chemotherapy the public needs to see more often -- a relentlessly positive face that confirms that the disease doesn't have to be an end-all.

"The worst thing about chemo is it's boring," Davis said with a smile yesterday.

His Wednesday treatment came around lunchtime. He said he ate a pastrami sandwich and chips and watched television as he sat in a hospital room attached to an IV dripping cancer-killing poison into his veins.

That's right, he ate a pastrami sandwich during his chemotherapy treatment.

"It was lunchtime and I was hungry," he said, shrugging.

What about the nausea that affects so many others during their cancer treatments?

"My appetite has been great ever since my wife found some herbal tea that seems to reduce the effects [of the chemo]," he said.

So, it was just Davis and his pastrami and the television during his Wednesday treatment?

"And nothing good on TV, either," he said. "I'm going to bring a movie of my own next time. A good horror movie or something like that."

Has cancer ever looked or sounded like this?

Not often enough, that's for sure.

Davis has done chemo and batting practice on back-to-back days three times now since rejoining the team, but yesterday was the first time he did it since he began training in earnest for a comeback. He was just shaking out the cobwebs the other two times.

The way he handled things yesterday was impressive, although it's not as if he just breezed through.

"I was pretty tired Wednesday night [after the treatment]," he said. "If I felt today like I did last night, you wouldn't be talking to me now."

But it wasn't Wednesday night, it was Thursday afternoon, more than 24 hours since the treatment. And Davis was feeling well enough to pick up a bat and hit a batch of line drives.

Wearing a black jersey, white pants and no cap, he stood around the cage taking cuts and talking animatedly to teammates, friends and opponents. He exchanged hugs with Paul O'Neill (a former teammate) and Dwight Gooden, and spent a long time with the Yankees' Darryl Strawberry, a close friend from his native Los Angeles.

When batting practice was over, he jogged back to the clubhouse, signed a poster for charity and exhaled at his locker.

"That wasn't too bad, not too bad at all," he said. "The question is how I'm going to feel in 20 minutes."

Not that he has any doubts about his ability to come back this season -- that's a given in his mind.

"I'm going to make it," he said. "I already have a date in mind. I'm not going to tell you when it is, because everyone will expect it then. But I do have a time in mind."

The Orioles probably won't activate him until he is ready to do more than just pinch-run; he is coming off the 60-day disabled list, so the club will have to take a player off the 40-man roster to make room for him.

"We have had some preliminary talks," Johnson said. "I'm sure we'll talk again when he feels like he's ready. I have room [on the score card] for another name and I'd love to put his on there."

For those wondering if Davis might make the postseason roster, that's asking a lot of a player who has endured so much and played so little.

But either way, he is a stunning comeback in progress.

"I feel blessed to have come back as fast as I have to this point," he said. "I can't wait to get back out there. It's going to be legendary."

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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