Davis feeling pain, but keeping his faith Therapy, prayer sustain slugger

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Some nights, after enduring three hours of physical therapy, after talking to the doctor, after fielding ground balls, after

running and stretching in the outfield, after spending one hour lifting weights, after watching the game from the bench, after showering and dressing, after pausing to talk with a friend or a fan, Glenn Davis will walk slowly across the cool grass to the left-field bullpen of the darkened, empty stadium.

He will sit and stare at the stars, reflecting upon the weeks spent laboring to heal his body, wondering if his career has been interrupted or ended.

And, then, he will pray.

"I have a lot of faith in God, and I believe in miracles," Davis says. "With an injury like I have, one that not a lot of people know much about, that's what you have left -- faith. I ask the Lord to touch and heal me and make me strong. That's where I put my trust to make me well."

Therapy and faith have sustained Davis through a season that has become a trial. He was brought from Houston to Baltimore to help lead the Orioles to the top of the American League's East division. Instead, he has been on the disabled list since April 26 with an injury to the spinal accessory nerve in his neck. The injury remains mysterious and maddening, a reminder of the limits of medical knowledge and the unpredictability of baseball.

Davis is patient. The Orioles are patient. No one has written off Davis' season, but no date of return has been posted. The Orioles traded Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling to acquire Davis. He will make $3.275 million this season before becoming a free agent. All the Orioles have to show for their investment is 12 games played, four home runs and eight RBI.

"Glenn's future is the main focal point," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "You feel sorry for him. You just know that he's raring at the bit to be part of producing for the Orioles. You can see that he is so genuine wanting to help the ballclub. I'm encouraged that he will play this year."

Davis appears to be a healthy, strapping 30- year-old first baseman in the prime of his career. But when he opens his Orioles jersey and points to his right shoulder, he reveals the severity of his injury. Just above his collarbone, there is an indentation, forming a deep, unsightly pocket of flesh. The nerve injury has affected the sterno-cleidomastoid muscle, which runs down the right side of the neck, and the trapezius muscle, which is involved in moving the right shoulder and lifting the arm.

"There used to be a Grand Canyon there before," he said.

After feeling a twinge in his neck during an exhibition game March 12, Davis played not in pain, but in fear. His right shoulder was becoming disfigured. His strength was dissipating. By the middle of April, he couldn't lift his right arm to comb his hair or sip a drink.

"My whole symmetry was out of place," he said. "It was just obvious. You would have said, 'What is this guy doing out there? He should be in the hospital.' I'd get down. I noticed something was wrong. I have a good arm, and I couldn't throw. I didn't know where the ball was going. I'm thinking, 'Man, what is happening?' And I'm thinking, 'Don't quit.' That battle was tough."

Still, he pressed on. A man who proudly wore the label of "gamer," who routinely played through injuries great and small, who averaged 31 home runs and 96 RBI with the Astros during the four seasons up to 1990, was not going to give up. Yet when he was called upon by then-manager Frank Robinson to pinch hit in a game against the Chicago White Sox April 24, he was terrified.

"I was scared to death that I would rip my whole shoulder out," he said. "Frank asked me to pinch hit, and I'm not going to say no. I picked up the bat and realized that I had not done one thing all day with my right arm."

Davis hit a home run. He felt no pain.

"I was shocked and amazed," he said. "But I knew there was a problem."

So began the weeks of doubt, the hospital tour that stretched from Baltimore to Cleveland to Inglewood, Calif., the milogram that gave him a 10-day headache, the needles that gave him the jitters, the search for answers that finally led to a program of rest and rehabilitation.

Always, there were questions. He didn't want a media circus. He watched and cringed as Bo Jackson hobbled from doctor to doctor trailed by newsmen.

"The last thing you want to do is not play," he said. "Emotionally and mentally, it's heartbreaking."

Now, he works and waits. He draws strength from his family, enjoying barbecues by the pool of his new home in Baltimore County, spending time with his wife Teresa and daughters Sharayah, 4, Tiffany, who turns 3 later this month, and Gabrielle, 10 months.

"My wife is helping me see things as they are," he said. "She encourages me. She pumps me up when I'm down. Physical therapy is strenuous, tedious and time-consuming. She is helping me deal with all of that."

His work days are spent with a physical therapist as he undergoes three hours of exercises six days a week to strengthen the muscles in his neck and right shoulder.

"Glenn doesn't feel sorry for himself," said Allan Johnson, the Orioles strength and conditioning coach. "He keeps a great attitude, and that really helps. He is not an athlete who cuts corners. He works hard in everything. If I was a betting man, I'd bet he would be back as strong as ever."

When the Orioles are home, Davis rejoins his team. He can field ground balls, but he can't throw, awkwardly tossing balls underhanded to his teammates. Thursday, he was allowed to swing a bat, smacking the ball off a tee. Just lifting his right arm to brush his hair brings a smile to his face.

The transition from player to patient apparently has been traumatic for Davis. When he missed 60 games with the Astros last year because of a rib injury, he said he felt like a "ghost, an invisible man," yet he understood that eventually he would regain his health. But this injury is different. There is no timetable to chart his recovery.

One question yielded a soliloquy from Davis. What has it been like these past few weeks, working and waiting to play?

"I'm not going to tell you that it's easy to sit back and watch," he said. "It's not. It hurts. It hurts a lot. You have to be in this position to know what I mean. I enjoy the game. I find pleasure in the game. It means more to me than making a buck, more than fame or fortune or glory. I find pleasure in competing. When I can't do that, it hurts."

He paused.

"There are a lot of things that I reflect upon. I've come to a new ballclub, one I'm thrilled to be a part of. I've had a lot of fun since I've been here. More fun than I've had in the last year. I like my new home."

He paused.

"The fans have welcomed me here and greeted me well and have given me their support, and it hurts not being able to give something back. My way of saying thank you is just playing."

He paused.

"The ballclub, the general manager, the owners and all th people associated from the business end have shown me a lot of respect. From an employee-employer relationship, it hurts not to be able to go out there to work for them. If someone treats you fair and honest, I like to go the extra mile. Not doing that, that hurts."

He paused.

"My teammates. Super guys. I've had a great time. We're a team, like a family. The team is struggling. It hurts me to see them and feel like I'd like to contribute. Not being able to do that, that hurts. I know, one man can't make a ballclub, but they count on me. It hurts knowing I might have a part in them feeling let down."

He paused.

"It's hard to answer all kinds of questions. I'm tired of talking about the injury. I'm just going to say I'm doing good. I'm fine. I'm getting better. Stuff like that. I've already come to the crossroads, and I know what direction I have to go in. I have a lot of faith in God that everything will go well."

That's a lot of hurt in one speech.

Davis admitted that six weeks ago, he was concerned that his career might be finished. But physical therapy has aided his confidence. He plans to play again. When? He has no answer, other than "this season."

Questions about his future with the Orioles also bring vague answers, from the team and Davis. As a policy, Hemond declines to discuss contract negotiations. He says he feels compassion for Davis' position.

"When you're in your productive season and this happens, it's not good," Hemond said.

Davis says he wants to remain in Baltimore, but he understands the economics of baseball and the position the Orioles have been placed in by his absence from the lineup.

"Just pure logic, people know I can play and I'm still capable o producing and driving in runs," he said. "If the Orioles, for whatever reason, decide not to have me part of their ballclub, I'm sure a lot of other teams will be jumping at the bit for me. But Baltimore would be my first choice next season. I like it here. The important thing for me is to recover and get stronger."

But, now, he works and waits and prays. Therapy gives him strength. Faith provides him with hope.

"I can see myself out there, playing," he said. "I can honestly see that. When? I don't know. The way I feel, it will be soon. I'm on the road to recovery. I believe I'll be healed, if not by my own therapy, then by my faith in God. That's the foundation I rest upon."

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