O's Davis return to lineup Sidelined by cancer, he will play today

September 15, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Davey Johnson won't sign a lineup card today; he will sign a keepsake.

The most ordinary task of a manager's day-to-day existence becomes something powerful today. This is the day Eric Davis plays again.

Three months and two days after Davis underwent surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital to remove a fist-sized cancerous mass and one-third of his colon, he will return to right field and the No. 3 spot in the order for the Orioles during the afternoon portion of a day-night doubleheader at Camden Yards.

"I'm not expecting to do anything heroic. Whatever happens, happens," Davis said yesterday, committing the understatement of the season.

Today marks his official return from the June 13 operation that has been followed by chemotherapy treatments and Davis' self-directed recovery.

"I knew it would come. I didn't know when or where, but I knew it would happen," he said.

Shortly before 1: 35 p.m., it will happen today.

Davis will jog to right field for the first time since excruciating abdominal pain forced him to double over inside the Jacobs Field third base dugout May 25. He will be enveloped by the appreciation that has welled within the city ever since it heard what once sounded so ominous.

"It's nice to return here before the organization and fans. They deserve that. For the support I've received from them, it would be great to come back at home. Everybody's been so supportive. Everybody's been so upbeat," Davis said yesterday. saw the Dodgers when Brett Butler came back [from throat cancer], and I think mine will be even better than that."

His rapid recovery has surprised many within the clubhouse, including those who have drawn strength from Davis' unwavering optimism.

"I thought that this would never come," Johnson said. "I thought once he was taking chemo, it would be impossible for him to play. I kind of felt that would be it and I'd see him in the spring."

Instead, he will see him now. At the very least, Davis represents a powerful inspiration to those inside the Orioles clubhouse and beyond. There is also a sliver of hope that he might resemble the right fielder who hit .302 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 129 at-bats during the season's first seven weeks.

Davis remains a candidate for the postseason. However, no one within the organization is hazarding a guess on how he will perform. The Orioles have missed his speed and his defense, especially.

Should he reclaim his batting stroke, another chapter could be added to an already improbable story.

"I've already won by just putting the uniform on and have the rest of the cancer removed from my body. I've already won. If it doesn't pan out where I'm on the postseason roster, I'll be here cheering and rooting for the guys just like I was playing," Davis said. "I'm not a selfish individual, so [missing the playoffs] wouldn't bother me. I'm competitive, and I want to be on that roster. But if for some reason I'm not, it's not the end of the world."

Davis has endured much to get back. In addition to his recovery from cancer, he returned to Los Angeles for a week after his older brother, Jimmy, suffered a fatal heart attack on Aug. 31.

Making today more meaningful will be the presence of his mother and wife.

Johnson, who lost a parent to lung cancer, was affected by questions regarding the power of today's moment. Asked what he expected his emotions to be, Johnson briefly hesitated before answering.

"I don't want to break down. My father died of cancer. What he's doing is special to me. There's a lot of people out there "

Johnson didn't complete the thought. This afternoon, Davis will finish it for him.

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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