Giving something back The Fan: The return of Eric Davis to Camden Yards gladdens our hearts. He's glad to be here, and shows it by taking extra time to sign autographs.

September 16, 1997

His wife turned to herbs, his mother to God. Eric Davis turned to baseball.

Baseball is a game, but it is also a community. Yesterday, Eric Davis returned to the playing field. He never, however, left the community.

"We're all in this together," he said simply.

The Fan would like to believe players when they talk about how important the fans are. But, she knows this is professional sports, big business really, and these are professional athletes. They're going to do their jobs with or without us bleeding orange and black or screaming our heads off in the stands.

RTC But with Eric Davis, it's different now. He gets it. We get it. We're speaking the same unspoken language.

Eric said he has been uplifted by letters from people who wanted to tell him they had surgery for colon cancer 10, 15 years ago and are just fine now. He was also boosted by his teammates' unflagging support throughout the ordeal, which will continue well beyond a single game. He says he can never give back as much as he has gotten.

He's wrong.

The Fan was anxious to see Eric Davis for herself yesterday. It was quite a sight. He emerged from the dugout before the game to toss a ball with Rafael Palmiero. He jogged out to right field to stretch and run some short laps. He blew a big pink bubble. He signed autographs for fans, who, being fans, clamored for more. "It's the national anthem!" he protested, taking off his hat and turning around to face the flag. But then he returned to the sidelines to sign a few more.

Some people just wanted to shake his hand.

We stood up when he ran out to right field to start the game, and again when he came to bat.

Strangers and intimates alike, we were all drawn to the park.

Eric's wife, Sherrie, and his mother, Shirley Frazier, both flew in from California. Sherrie, her worried eyes peeking out from long bangs, has been helping her husband stave off the side effects from chemotherapy with a tea that a friend who is an herbalist recommended. Shirley, who gave her son a big long hug after the game, admits her heart is still heavy from the sudden and recent death of her other son.

Eric's surgeon, Keith Lillemoe,finished up his morning operations Hopkins and raced over to the ballpark. He wasn't fulfilling professional obligations to his patient.

"I'm here as a fan," Lillemoe, a season ticket holder, said. "I feel so good for him, I wanted to be here. As a fan, this is something I didn't want to miss."

Lillemoe grew up in Aberdeen, S.D., when the Orioles had a minor league franchise there, watching players like Jim Palmer in the early stages of their playing careers. When he was 11, a guy named Boog Powell gave him his autograph. Recently, Lillemoe treated the first baseman turned ballpark barbecue magnate for his own bout with colon cancer.

Boog cheered Eric on from home, watching his return game on TV.

"It gives me something to look forward to. If Eric has come this far this soon, it gives us all hope," Powell said. "He came and visited me in the hospital. I'm not too far away from doing what I do at the ballpark either. I'm good for a couple, three hours, that's about it at this point. It whacks your whole system. But I'm looking forward to getting back in the lineup myself."

A home run

Back at the park, things went according to a believable script -- Eric didn't hit any game winning home runs, but his teammate Jeffrey Hammonds did.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze The Fan about Camden Yards is how intimate it is. In some seats, you are right there. It's not even just the field box seats around the dugouts and on-deck circles. Even the first row of the bleachers puts you right on top of the outfielders. You hear them joking with one another, sometimes they turn and wave to particularly vocal (or female) fans.

Eric Davis tossed several balls into "his" sections, the seats closest to right field. Friends Michael Garson and Lloyd Slovon, who share seasons tickets in section 6, caught two of them.

"I've been going to games for 20 years; it's the first ball I ever got," Garson, 27, of Silver Spring said. "Think that had something to do with it?"

"That" was what we'd just been talking about, the parents all of us had lost to cancer. Garson's mother died last year from brain cancer; Slovon's father died also last year of colon cancer.

"I just can't believe he has the strength to go out there," said Slovon, of Burtonsville, as he watched someone with his father's disease running through right field on a hot afternoon. "Chemo takes so much out of you. All you do is sleep."

In the final throes of the disease, Slovon's father wanted to see one more game, so his family brought him last July. He suffered a major stroke on the way out of the park, and died. "Happy," Slovon, 37, noted.

One game, one afternoon.

Eric was peppered with questions afterward: How did it feel, when will he play again, what about the post-season, what will happen next?

With cancer, who knows?

All suited up

Eric suited up even before he was ready to swing a bat or chase down a fly ball. He sat in the dugout for games he would not play. Taken out after five innings yesterday, he was still one of the first to shoot out of the dugout to shake his teammates' hands after the victory.

"If I'm not ready to play," he said on the radio after the game, "I'm going to root for my team the way I did when I went down."

Now that's a fan.

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Pub Date: 9/16/97

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