Wednesday, October 1, 1997
Davis handles cancer nonchalantly

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Eric Davis
Eric Davis
SEATTLE - Eric Davis does not do melodrama. He has come back from cancer the way most of us come back from the grocery store. Only with less baggage.

The Baltimore Orioles' outfielder is a study in understatement. The Commissioner of Cool. The long-time Reds slugger is the best human interest story of the postseason, until you ask him about it. You walk away wondering what all the fuss has been about.

"People deal with tragedy every day, so why ask, 'Why me?' " Davis said Tuesday afternoon. "Why not me? It might be a point where I'm being used to do something positive. I don't worry about why. All you can do is deal with it."

Nobody does nonchalance better than Davis. In analyzing tonight's playoff opener against Seattle's Randy Johnson - the most terrifying pitcher in baseball - Davis allowed that, "It's no different than hitting against anybody else."

You might question the man's judgment, or suspect his sincerity, but know that he would be matter-of-fact if his house were on fire. Colon cancer, Davis would have us think, is just another ailment with a lot of hype, a disease that has yet to convince him of its calamity.

Maybe this is why he is beating it.

"I have nothing to fight," he said. "They took the cancer out of my body. That's what people fail to realize. I don't have cancer in my body. I'm taking preventive chemotherapy to prevent it from recurring. It's not in my lymph nodes. It's not in my blood. My whole thing with the chemo is to prevent it from coming back."

What was initially a life-or-death proposition is now mainly a matter of weekly maintenance. On June 13, Davis had a malignant mass and one-third of his colon removed at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was Friday the 13th, the doctor reminded him, but Davis said he wasn't superstitious.

"I've always faced adversity head-on and I wasn't about to change my game plan," he said. "Once the doctor told me it was cancerous and he'd have to go get it, I wanted to go get it."

Less than four months later, Davis has completed half of his chemotherapy treatments - nine out of 18 - and has regained most of his lost weight and bat speed. He finished the season with a .304 batting average - he has hit .310 since the surgery - and has been emboldened to change his chemotherapy appointments from Wednesday to Friday in order to facilitate the Orioles' playoff schedule.

Standing in the visitors clubhouse at the Kingdome Tuesday, Davis was asked if he felt lucky.

"No, I feel blessed," he said. "Lucky is turning over a card when you don't know which one it is."

Saturday in Milwaukee, a day after his most recent chemotherapy session, Davis was blessed with four hits in five at bats, including his first home run since May 6. A case can be made that Eric Davis has been the Comeback Player of the Year two years in a row.

"I haven't tried to do more than I'm capable of doing," he said. "It wasn't a necessity when I came back - because of the players we had on this club - that I had to come back and pick up the slack.

"Ninety percent of my career, I've always been the focal point. This time, I was just able to come in and play. No expectations. Whatever I could do, I could do."

Beyond the statistics, what Eric Davis has done has been to make cancer a little less intimidating. His example ought to encourage more people to seek answers to their medical problems, and to deal with these problems directly. The unknown is often more frightening than the facts.

"Cancer," someone told Davis Tuesday, "has a pretty high batting average."

"It's knocked some people out," he replied. "It's the way of the world. We're all going to leave here one day. It's just a matter of where and when. If you were born, you will surely die. The way I look at it is if the Lord didn't think I could handle it, he wouldn't have given it to me."

He has handled it to date like a routine fly ball. Almost effortlessly.

"It takes too much energy out of you to be depressed and worried," Eric Davis said. "It don't take no energy to smile."

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.