Before his first public appearance at Camden Yards since his retirement, Chris Davis wasn’t nervous, but the longtime Orioles first baseman acknowledged he might have reason to be.
In Baltimore, Davis was a two-time home run champion and a key figure in the franchise’s most successful run in decades, but soon after signing a club-record contract, he and the Orioles fell apart. When a hip injury ended Davis’ career in 2021, fans had mixed feelings about his tenure.
But when he returned to Camden Yards in September as one of the former players who attended Adam Jones’ retirement ceremony, Davis received one of the biggest ovations from the sellout crowd.
“I thought, ‘It’s going to be interesting to see the reception I get,’ and I was extremely, extremely happy and emotional,” Davis said. “I know there were some tough years in Baltimore, but I also have a lot of good memories from my time, and not just from the game.”
He highlighted the work he and his wife, Jill, have done with the Casey Cares Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization that supports critically ill children, and the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, with efforts including a $3 donation million dollars for a hybrid catheterization suite to treat children with heart defects.
After his playing career ended, Davis delved further into philanthropic endeavors. He and Jill are core team members of Compassion International’s ‘The Fight for First’ campaign, which aims to improve the survival rate of mothers and children in poor areas during their first year of life.
“The most important thing we’re trying to accomplish is to give these kids an opportunity to have a life and not only experience a lot of first things, but to actually enjoy it,” Davis said. “When I look at our daughters, and even when I look at our lives, we didn’t have to worry about not making it to our first birthday. And when you see the statistics on infant mortality rates, the fact that not only children, but also these mothers are dying because they just don’t have the general knowledge or the resources, and the fact that when compassion comes into these areas, the fact that they’re almost crushing these numbers, it’s like, well, why don’t we get involved?
The Davises first partnered with Compassion, a Christian humanitarian nonprofit focused on helping poor children, in 2011, shortly after the Orioles acquired the first baseman as part of a trade with the Texas Rangers. They have since sponsored several children, supported the construction of developmental centers and supported other programs, such as the “Fill the Stadium” effort during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Fight for First’s goal is to fund 500 survival centers, which would each support 25,000 mothers and babies by the end of 2024. Children ages 3 and older can be sponsored and supported by Compassion, but the organization found that many children were not. I can’t seem to reach that age, which prompted the introduction of The Fight for First.
Parents of three young daughters – Ella, 9, and twins Grace and Evie, 5 – the Davises acknowledge that their family had fortunes and advantages that many others in the world do not have.
“The odds are so stacked against these moms, and being a parent is hard here, being a mom is hard here,” Jill Davis said. “What we call difficult is almost unbearable to think about in their situation, isn’t it? It’s tough here, so I just can’t imagine living in one of these communities or giving birth to my twins in one of these communities. Chances are neither Grace nor I will be there. We wouldn’t have beaten him.
“It just shouldn’t be this way. We have so much access to so much stuff here, and we just want to get it out there.
Jill noted that in vulnerable areas with a Compassion Center, infant mortality rates fell from around 31 children per 1,000 to near zero. Every $1,000 donated to The Fight for First supports a mother and child until the baby’s first birthday, while every $15,000 is enough for one survival center to save 25 mothers and children.
As was the case during his playing career, Davis hopes to encourage other athletes to get involved. Seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday and his wife, Leslee – the parents of top Orioles prospect Jackson Holliday – are also part of The Fight for First’s core team, along with other MLB pros, NFL, NHL and many more among the fans. far.
“With the platform they are given and the amount of money you can make over the course of your baseball career, I would always encourage athletes to give financially,” Davis said. “But I think the most important thing is once your time in baseball is over and you have a little more freedom to move and go, I think getting your hands dirty is really for me that which is worth it.”
According to Davis, this has been one of the most satisfying aspects of retirement. He and Jill sponsor children throughout Latin America and Africa, and since half the schedule is no longer built around the baseball schedule, they have been able to plan and take trips to meet them, visit community centers that they helped support and simply meet face to face. facing Compassion members with whom they could only email before.
“This is how we want to spend our time, not only financially supporting some of these places, but also having the opportunity to go and meet some of these people,” Davis said. “For me, that’s really where the impact is the biggest.”
Although Davis finds satisfying ways to occupy his time, he also misses baseball. He relieved his itch somewhat through his training, occasionally helping infielders and hitters during practices at Liberty Christian High School in Argyle, Texas; he also guided Ella’s third grade basketball team to a championship.
“It doesn’t matter,” he joked.
He was also excited to watch the Orioles’ season, seeing several players who started their careers late in his career play key roles as Baltimore won 101 games and the American League East.
When Davis retired, the Orioles were in the midst of a 2021 season that ended with 110 losses, the third straight full season they had lost at least 108 times. Davis struggled mightily during this stretch, hitting .196. during the seven-year, $161 million contract he signed after a 2015 season in which he led the majors in home runs for the second time in three years.
But he appreciated the connections he made during that time. Senior outfielders Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays debuted with Davis as a teammate. Ryan Mountcastle, the current Orioles first baseman, still uses a glove he received from Davis. During a stint at the alternate training site in 2020, Davis was able to rub shoulders with phenoms Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez, getting a first-hand look at the future that was brewing. Throughout the season, Davis texted general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde to tell them how proud he was and how much he loved watching the team.
In many ways, it reminded him of the successful run that preceded his and the Orioles’ struggles, when Baltimore consistently exceeded external expectations to become the AL’s winningest team from 2012 to 2016.
“That was kind of our modus operandi in the beginning: no one is going to pick us to win, no one cares about us, everyone thinks we’re losers and we’re going to prove everyone wrong.” , Davis said. “I think that mentality really brought us together, when we talk about the group that started winning, and I saw a lot of that from the guys this year.
“I saw that there was just a fire in them, that they didn’t care who picked them and who didn’t pick them, that they were just going to go out and play good baseball and that they were going to play together.”
He’s grateful that these younger players treated him as a veteran with respect during their time together, something he said he “will always appreciate.” He hopes he has imparted lessons to them that have paid off not only this season, but also in their long-term lives and careers, particularly in terms of the effect they can have off the field.
“Being able to play in the big leagues is a blessing in itself, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Davis said. “You don’t know what your career is going to look like, but the impact you can have, not only on the community you’re in, but wherever you are during the offseason, and even globally, is so huge, and it doesn’t take much.
“You can give a little, and it goes a long way. »