Cancer. The word, the disease, doesn't fit in these surroundings. Tom medial collateral ligament. That fits. Rotator cuff. That fits. Cancer doesn't fit onto the usual postcards, into the usual poems written from spring training. Poems about young guys who walk into a clubhouse, double numbers on their backs, fresh from their first dance with the big leagues, bulletproof and headed toward immortality. Poems about Cal Ripken Jr., never misses a game, made of iron. Cancer?
"There was a persistent stomach pain," says Eric Davis. "Not a pain like you knew, a pain that doubled you over. Nobody seemed to know what it was. Finally, I left the team in New York. I went back to Baltimore, to Johns Hopkins. It took them about half an hour for them to tell me what it was. Just like that...."
It's a Tuesday afternoon in Fort Lauderdale, and Davis, the Baltimore Orioles' outfielder-DH, had gone 1 for 3 in the sunshine against the Minnesota Twins and been lifted after five innings. He's sitting at his locker in his underwear with a big ice bag taped to his sore back, and he tells the story of what happened to him last May. "They said I could take some time before the operation," Davis says. "I said there wasn't any need for that. Let's get it done. They did the operation a few days later."
Who has cancer in the big leagues? Look at Davis, 6'3", 200. He was playing great. He was leading the American League in hitting, .395 on May 8. The news of this disease—colon cancer-was a sudden draft from a door seldom opened in pro sports.
"You thought you had some gas," outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds suddenly says from the next locker. "Wasn't that it? You thought you had some gas?"
"I thought I had some gas," Davis agrees.
"Then you disappeared," Hammonds says. "Everyone was like, 'Where's Eric?' Then after a few days, the word started to get out. It was like this whisper...."
"You tell the story better than I do."
The word still is spoken almost in a whisper.