SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) On his 28th birthday last week, Chris Davis forked his way through a massive piece of peanut-butter cream pie.
It was a rare fling for the Baltimore Orioles first baseman, who dedicated the offseason to rebuilding his weary body following a summer in which he led the majors with 53 homers and 138 RBIs.
After earning fame, popularity and a third-place finish in the AL MVP balloting, Davis had no interest in earning hefty appearance fees on the dinner circuit as baseball’s new Home Run King. Instead, he holed up in Texas with his family, made frequent visits to a nearby 24-hour gym and adhered to a regimented diet.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound slugger now looks like he could play in 162 games and hit the ball a mile in every one of them.
”I’m about the same weight I was this time last year, but lower body fat,” Davis said. ”Maybe that’s why I look bigger, I don’t know. But working out has always been real important to me.”
There once was a time when Davis would eat a whole pie out of the box without a shred of guilt. Those days are done.
”In 2007, when I was in the minor leagues in High A and I was about 265, I ate (poorly),” he recalled. ”I was 21 years old. I was kind of starting to get to the point where you’re not in the high-school phase where you can just eat anything you want and just burn it off. I had to really adjust my diet.
”Eighty percent of the time I eat really clean, 20 percent of the time I’ll splurge, so to speak. As long as you listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs and doesn’t need. You cut carbs and you start to feel light-headed, that’s a good sign you might need a big piece of bread.”
Or a slab of pie. Whatever. Davis obviously is doing something right, as evidenced by his breakthrough 2013 season. Not only did he lead the majors in most power categories, including extra-base hits, but he made the All-Star team and earned a Silver Slugger Award.
The Orioles fell out of contention during the final week of the season, but they would have never gotten that far if not for Davis.
”I was so proud of two things he did last year,” manager Buck Showalter said. ”The way he handled all the adulation that came his way, and the defense he played. That’s why I thought he was so strong in the MVP running, because he was our MVP – running the bases, fielding his position, throwing the baseball.”
Showalter paused for an instant, grinned and added, ”And yes, he did OK hitting, too.”
No one will ever be able to take that 2013 season away from Davis. But now, the inevitable question arises: What can the man nicknamed ”Crush” do for an encore?
Babe Ruth had successive seasons with 50 home runs in 1920-21 and 1927-28. The next person to do it was Mark McGwire in 1996-97. McGwire later acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs during that stage of his career.
Davis has never failed a drug test and adamantly denies using PEDs. But some still question the source of his power.
”It was frustrating when it first came up last year, because what happened to me was the culmination of a lot of hard work over the years,” Davis said. ”It was funny because people who didn’t even know me were accusing me of using PEDs. My response was: I’ve always had power. You go back to high school, Little League, minor leagues, college, I’ve always had power. It was just a matter of putting the ball in play consistently.”
Brady Anderson hit 50 in 1996 for Baltimore and followed with 18 homers during an injury-marred 1997 season. Now a member of the Orioles front office, Anderson argues that Davis has nothing to prove this year.
”I don’t expect Chris to drop off like I did,” Anderson said. ”People looked at me going from 50 to 18 as if it was surprising. It would have been more surprising if I came back and hit 50. Only a few players in the history of the game have hit 50 once. Even fewer have done it twice. So with Chris, if you want to be realistic, if he hits 35 to 40 – and even goes down to 30 – he would still have an amazing year.”
Said Showalter: ”Whether he hits 30, 40, 50 or 20, he’s going to be as good as he’s capable of being.”
Davis doesn’t have to hit 50 for the Orioles to generate offense this season. Baltimore led the majors in home runs last year and recently added slugger Nelson Cruz, who banged 27 homers in only 109 games with Texas in 2013.
”Last year was great but it’s over with. I’ve got to look forward to what we’ve got going this year,” Davis said. ”I knew when I hit 53 that the expectations were raised, but it’s something I wanted. I expect great things out of myself on a daily basis.”
Davis is focused on getting the Orioles back into the postseason in 2014, but his personal goals transcend the immediate future.
”It’s extremely important to me to take care of my body,” he said. ”I want to play this game as long as I can. I know that everything I do in the weight room, the way that I eat, the way that I live my life, is going to allow me to do that.”