“Against Lufkin, our big rival, he hit the highest pop fly I’ve ever seen,” said his high school coach, Joey Kalmus. “He hit it so dad-gummed high that everyone lost it. All of the infielders were shouting, ‘Where the heck is it?’ When the ball finally came down, just on the outfield grass, nobody was around it, two runs had scored and Chris was on second base.”
At the Mr. Kwik convenience store on High Street, there’s a photo of Davis and his Longview teammates from 2004, when they captured their only district title in the last 43 years. The slugger they called Diesel hit 13 home runs and pitched the Lobos to three victories before his arm gave out. At a tournament in Shreveport, La., officials gave trophies for best pitcher and hitter. Davis won both.
“Chris was just awesome with that purty lefthanded swing, the same then as now,” store owner Jim Hardwick said. “He struck out a bunch of times too, but when he got hot, he did some crazy things. That home run that beat Mississippi? It looked like a BB sailing off into the night.”
Davis grew as fast as did the stories about him. He was nine pounds at birth and quickly made himself bigger gorging on Mexican food at Carlito’s. High school coaches dubbed him “Biscuit” because at 230 pounds, he was one biscuit away from having to move off shortstop.
His bed barely fit into his room at the Davis family’s modest rancher. Posters of Nolan Ryan and Ken Griffey Jr. dotted the walls. Window ledges were crammed with the trophies and home run balls that Davis had hit. His mother did her best to retrieve every one.
It wasn’t easy, Karen Davis said.
“Once, during a night game in Kilgore, I went searching for the ball in the woods while a friend shone her car lights through the trees,” she said.
At 3-1/2, Lyn Davis said, his son “would be out in the back yard, with his Fisher Price bat, hitting a plastic ball over the fence into my vegetable garden. It wasn’t good for the tomatoes, but I couldn’t get too upset with him.”
Davis fed on competition soon enough.
Hardy Elkins, a longtime friend, met Davis at 9 when they competed against each other in a punt, pass and kick football competition.
“I’d beaten everyone at my school and I figured I’d win in a cakewalk," Elkins said. "But here comes this enormous kid, punting and throwing the ball further than anybody had ever seen.
“Even then, Chris was the kid in little league that nobody wanted to face, the one in church basketball that nobody wanted to guard.”
But nothing held his interest like baseball. If Davis wasn’t on a diamond, he was taking swings in a batting cage. Or playing the Griffey Jr. video game for hours. Or playing stickball with friends in Nick McJimsey’s back yard with a plastic bat, a Wiffle ball wrapped in Duct tape and the paper plates they used for bases.
“The games got rough at times,” said Gordon Freeman, who grew up with Davis. “There were rock gardens and bushes back there. Plus, Chris was always competitive, whether we were playing ball or deciding who would date a particular girl.”
Success never went to Davis’ head, those who know him said. Thank his father for that. No one worked harder than Lyn Davis to make his son a star — and no one was a harsher critic.
“Chris could have a game where he hit three home runs and struck out once, and his dad would harp on him about the strikeout,” Sammy Hardwick said.
There was no room for error when Davis suited up.
“From our pee wee days, his dad was on top of Chris’ game,” Freeman said. “His father rode him really hard, and it put a lot of pressure on Chris as a child. His dad’s attitude was, ‘I’m going to show you the tough love because I see the potential in you.’ “
Friends said that if Davis had an off game, like going 1-for-3, his father would promise, “We’re going to fix this tomorrow.”