Commentary

Chris Davis hits stride far from home

Slugger matures into force with Orioles, admits he "wasn't ready" with Rangers

Updated: June 7, 2013, 12:33 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

HOUSTON -- Chris Davis knows exactly why you're mad. You see the prodigious homers.

You see the .357 batting average. The 52 RBIs. The ridiculous 1.168 OPS. You see his age. His defense. His athleticism.

The All-Star Game voting totals came out this week, and the 27-year-old Longview, Texas, native is the leader at first base.

More votes than Detroit's Prince Fielder. More than Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyChris Davis has been on an absolute tear for the Baltimore Orioles this season, causing Rangers fans to wonder why he was traded away. "There were times they could've given me a longer leash," Davis said. "… But I wasn't ready."

And all you can do is bury your head in a pillow and scream like a banshee while wondering how in the hell general manager Jon Daniels traded the guy that the Texas Rangers took in the sixth round of the 2006 draft?

You can't figure out why the Rangers didn't give Davis more time to develop. Or why they didn't find a hitting coach to close the holes in his swing.

He's the guy who should be providing all the power in the middle of the Rangers' lineup without one-hundreth of Josh Hamilton's drama.

Why? Why? Why?

"There were times they could've given me a longer leash, but I had my share of opportunities," Davis said before Tuesday's game against the Houston Astros. "I'll be the first to tell you, I [expletive] the bed. I wasn't ready.

"When Smoaky [Justin Smoak] got traded in the Cliff Lee deal, they brought me back from Triple-A, but I wasn't at a good point to take advantage of the opportunity.

"I'm thankful JD [Daniels] traded me because they could've just held onto me. I know some fans are mad because of the way I've been playing, but there's no guarantee I'd be doing in Texas what I'm doing right now."

The Rangers didn't have time to wait for Davis. The Rangers, irrelevant for so many of their first 38 years in Arlington, were trying to win the World Series after coming so close in 2010.

And Davis couldn't find consistency with Mapquest.

In 2008-09, Davis hit 38 homers in 686 at-bats. He also struck out 238 times. Still, front-office officials had no problem discussing privately whether Hamilton or Davis would hit more homers prior to the 2009 season.

Davis Man, I've grown up a lot. I didn't realize how much pressure I was putting on myself to play at home. I had people at every game - my family and friends. It really felt at times like I had the whole state of Texas on my back because the hometown boy had to do well. I didn't have a chance to breathe.

-- Orioles 1B Chris Davis

Of course, those debates seemed ludicrous in 2010-11, when Davis hit just six homers in 319 plate appearances while Hamilton was earning the American League MVP trophy. Today, they seem equally silly.

Getting rid of Davis was part of the process.

"Sometimes, guys need a change of scenery," Daniels said. "There's a level of regret, but, I think, I said at the time there was a chance he'd go off -- and we'd have to live with it.

"He's a really good person. Sometimes it takes a different time, a different place, a different situation for something to click for a player. Sometimes, it's a different role, a different voice. You just never know."

So many folks just assume Davis would be mashing in Texas the way he's done this season in Baltimore, which makes no sense.

Guarantees don't exist in sports.

See, Davis needed to leave the Rangers to maximize his potential. He needed a manager like Buck Showalter, who would put him in the lineup every day whether he went 4-for-4 or struck out four times.

And he needed to get away from the self-imposed pressure to prove to the folks in Longview -- 90 minutes east of Dallas -- that he could excel at baseball's highest level.

"Man, I've grown up a lot," Davis said. "I didn't realize how much pressure I was putting on myself to play at home. I had people at every game -- my family and friends.

"It really felt at times like I had the whole state of Texas on my back because the hometown boy had to do well. I didn't have a chance to breathe."

Davis needed to believe he could dominate the big leagues the way he did Triple-A, but the belief had to come internally.

It didn't matter what general managers, managers, scouts or friends told him. Until Davis truly believed he belonged in the big leagues, he could never unleash his full potential.

"Everybody wants to know what's changed with Chris," Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter, who was acquired in the same deal, said.

"You know why it didn't work in Texas? He sucked. I sucked, too. He's the same guy. The same [expletive] guy. This game is hard. It takes time to figure it out."

Actually, Davis is much better.

The all-or-nothing hitter who played for the Rangers is gone. Last season, he hit .270 with 33 homers and 85 RBIs.

Who would be shocked if he hits those numbers by the All-Star break in six weeks?

No one.

"I'm patiently aggressive," Davis said. "It's OK to take a walk. Last year, I felt like I had to do something to help the team every time I was at the plate because a walk wasn't good enough.

"I had to show them I belonged. This year, it's all about how can I help the team because I got guys behind me who can do the job. I wasn't gonna learn that in Triple-A because I'd been there and done that. I had to learn I could do it in big leagues."

Fans scream. Daniels shakes his head.

This is going to take awhile.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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