"He played," Hammonds says. "Do you know what I'm saying? He played"
There was no better story in baseball. None. The Chemo is done. The final treatment was Feb. 11, six extra weeks added onto the original schedule as insurance. The cancer apparently is gone. There are still regular checkups—there was one last week, a CAT scan, negative—but life can be normal again. No, that's not true. Life can never be normal again.
The word cancer has been written across Davis's back as surely as if it had been stitched on his black uniform shirt in Orioles orange letters. He's a spokesman, a voice, a picture of a patron saint enclosed in a pack of trading cards. "I don't mind talking about this," he says. "I'm not forced into doing this. Don't use that word. The only two things I got to do in this life are stay black and the. I want to do this."
In the winter he went to a succession of banquets to accept a succession of awards, most of them named for departed, courageous athletes. The Roberto Clemente Award. The Tony Conigliaro Award. The Fred Hutchinson Award. The Bob Chandler Award. He was tired, didn't want to be away from his family, but he went and accepted the awards with honor and dignity. He also made public-service announcements about cancer prevention. He talked with groups and individuals. He didn't ask for this—any of this—but he accepted it. "This is real," says Davis, a religious man. "I like baseball, but I've known for a long time that baseball is a game. It is when baseball stops that life begins."
He calls 21-year-old Joel Stephens. An outfielder with Delmarva, the Orioles' Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, Stephens watched the drama of September and Davis's return with everyone else, on television. Less than a month later, suffering from stomach pains, he was in Johns Hopkins, same grim diagnosis but without the publicity. He is recovering from his operation for colon cancer at home in Tioga, Pa. "You think all the time, when someone gets cancer, this will never happen to you," Stephens says. "Then it happens to you. You look at Eric—he's called me a couple of times with inspirational words and some tips on how to handle the chemo—and you see what he has done. You have someone to make you think you can beat this thing."
Check the spring lineup. Eric Davis feels good. He's no more tired than he normally would be at this time of the year. Miller thinks Davis probably will play "around 100 games, maybe more." That doesn't sound unrealistic.
The cancer patient is batting third, starting in right.