BALTIMORE—On April 8, 2011, Chris Davis was living by himself in a one-bedroom apartment with two items—an air mattress and a TV. Actually, Davis says, there were three items, because the TV was sitting on top of the box it came in.
Davis, then 25, was first baseman for the Round Rock Express, where every time a hometown ballplayer hits a home run, fans “pass the boot” to collect prize money. That’s how he got the TV.
But $300 in prize money was small consolation: Davis had been the Texas Rangers’ first baseman opening the previous two seasons, but he lost the job each time amid deep batting slumps.
“I don’t know if what I’m doing is really affecting anybody,” he recalls telling his then-girlfriend, Jill, who is now his wife. Davis prayed and decided to put out a fleece: If he stayed in the minor leagues all season, he would hang up his spikes and go back to school, perhaps seminary.
The next day Davis hit three home runs—and the next week he was recalled to the major leagues. Three months later, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, whom he led in 2012 with 33 home runs. He also joined Babe Ruth and Jim Tobin as the only players since 1900 to hit three home runs in a game and earn a pitching win in the same season. (Davis pitched the final two innings of a 17-inning game in May).
Davis finished 2012 with seven home runs in his final seven games, then picked up where he left off in 2013: He became the fourth player in big league history to homer in the first four games of a season, and he set a record by driving in 16 runs in those four contests. He went on to earn American League Player of the Month honors in April after finishing at or near the top of most offensive categories.
Davis told me experiencing low points in his career helps him stay humble and keep things in perspective. During interviews, Davis consistently points to God as the author of his success, but he said such comments rarely make it into print: “I think people want you to take credit for the result of good work.”
Davis’ outlook wasn’t always so biblical: He was baptized at the age of 6, but church fell to the wayside when he started playing with traveling baseball teams at age 10. For the next 14 years, Davis was defined by his most recent performance on the field.
Everything came to a head in 2010 in San Francisco: The Rangers were playing in their first World Series, but Davis, having lost the first base job three times in the previous 18 months, was on the sidelines with the taxi squad (alternates ready to play in the case of an injury). One night, Davis awoke early in the morning and felt God saying, “You’ve waited long enough. It’s time for you to surrender.”
Davis began devouring spiritual food: He read the Bible and books on prayer, quizzed other believers about their daily activities, and attended the team Bible study. Teammates Josh Hamilton and David Murphy—“two of the strongest Christian men I know”—discipled Davis in person, and Denton pastor Matt Chandler did the same via podcasts.
Some might point to Davis’ on-field success as a natural result of his spiritual renewal, but he flatly rejects the prosperity gospel: “When you come to Christ and follow God with your whole heart, it’s not by any means going to get easier,” he said. “When I really started pursuing God—really He started pursuing me—it was tough.”
Davis said, “It’s not anything we’re doing” that allows believers to be successful. “It’s what God has allowed us to enjoy,” he said. “The biggest reason I’ve been successful this year is because [I know] this isn’t all there is.”
Listen to J.C. Derrick's profile of Chris Davis on The World and Everything in It: