Thursday, April 27, 2017

Baseball Doesn't Get Easier, ctd.

Matt Davidson
Ah, the saga of Matt Davidson, the Vexed Baseball Player writ small. Two Februaries ago I wrote about Davidson, then a prospect with the Chicago White Sox who was ticketed as a sure-thing but who was baffled and struggling in the Minors. That old story. Since then, I've been keeping an eye on Davidson, who's the kind of player I think I would've liked when I was a kid: he's handsome but not overwhelmingly so, obviously talented yet modest, brooding, a quiet, head-down-go-to-work kind of grinder. Things started to come together for Davidson in AAA ball, and he was promoted to the White Sox last summer. He promptly broke his foot in his debut game while rounding the bases after stroking an RBI single in the fourth inning.

More Davidson Appeal: lousy luck, in game that depends as much on kind fate as on elite talent. His 2016 full-season stat line says it all, in not saying much:

He was out for the year.

This season, back with the team, undeterred, Davidson has been playing solidly: as of this writing, in 48 plate appearances (an admittedly small sample size) he an OPS of 1.000, with four home runs, fourteen RBI, and two doubles. He's hitting .311. His latest speed bump on the path to starting, if not stardom? That's he playing on a rebuilding club. Recently, he was benched for four consecutive games so that White Sox manager Rick Renteria could give at-bats and playing time to rookies. Davidson's reaction, at least his public one, was mature and balanced, another reason to like the kid: "It feels a whole lot better being here than in (Triple-A) Charlotte, so I'm enjoying every single day," he said. "Obviously I want to play, but being here with these guys and being in Chicago is a dream come true."

It gives me the luxury to get a little more work in, whereas when you play every day, you try to conserve your energy. I'm really trying not to take any mental days off, even if I'm not playing. ... There's still a lot to learn every day.
Talking to those guys and taking ground balls in batting practice with them, I felt like I gathered a lot of wisdom from them in those moments. Playing every day is important as far as development, but you can learn a lot just sitting, listening and watching as well.
Good stuff, a jock's eagerness tempered with mature patience; I like the blend. With Davidson, I want to believe that his responses aren't canned, but genuine.

What did Davidson do when reinserted into the lineup? Promptly have what White Sox announcer Jason Benetti quipped should've been retroactively dubbed a promotable "Matt Davidson Day:" a three-hit, four-RBI night in a 12-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field. Looks like I won't have to figuratively peer at Davidson in the dugout too often anymore. And yet...injuries surprise, slumps are stubborn, baseball is a humbling game, and his journey of ups and downs should be rewarding, maybe even teacherly, to watch.

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