In brutal White Sox season, Matt Davidson would gladly take an All-Star debut
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Matt Davidson was 10 when he watched the All-Star Game that still jumps to the front of his mind faster than any other.
His favorite player, pitcher Randy Johnson, got the starting assignment for the National League that night in 2001. His grandmother’s darling, Cal Ripken Jr., was in his All-Star swan song. Grandma’s guy was the enduring hero, homering a few innings after American League teammate Alex Rodriguez famously switched positions with Ripken to allow the 40-year-old to stand one last time on the national stage at shortstop.
“Ridiculous,” Davidson said Thursday before the White Sox rallied to beat the Rangers 4-2 in the opener of a four-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field. “That might’ve been the best All-Star Game ever.”
We’ll have to remember to check back with Davidson on that assessment two months from now. Is there much doubt he’ll be at Nationals Park in Washington for his All-Star debut?
The White Sox have to be represented by somebody. Raise your hand if you can find a better candidate than the guy who leads the Sox in home runs (11), RBI (25), slugging percentage (.553) and on-base percentage (.367).
“I don’t know what, if that happens, it would be like,” Davidson said. “I’m sure it’ll be crazy. It’s just like getting to the big leagues — you always dream about it, but then you get there and it’s, like, a lot bigger than it seems.”
Davidson’s two-out, bases-loaded, game-tying walk off reliever Jose Leclerc was even bigger than it seemed, too. It was his favorite — and, perhaps, most meaningful — at-bat of the season. He fought back from an 0-2 count, letting four sliders out of the zone go by.
“I’m sure last year I’d have swung at one of them,” he said.
Or maybe, given the chance, at all of them.
Think back to Davidson’s unconscionable imbalance of 165 strikeouts and only 19 walks last season, which led to an embarrassing on-base percentage of .260. A year later, the strikeouts are at a nothing-to-see-here 46 and the walks are at an impressive 23. That’s a 2-to-1 ratio many an All-Star hitter would gladly live with.
Davidson, 27, may not have entered 2018 as a significant name in the Sox rebuild. But now he must be looked at as a potential key piece, too disciplined at the plate to be labeled a boom-or-bust slugger.
“That is a substantial step forward and a necessity for a player like him to become valuable, and he has responded to the challenge,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “I’m not going to say after [40 games], ‘Hey, he’s our X on this next championship team,’ but that’s a real positive development for Matt and a good development for the organization.”
This might not be the last chance for Davidson, who was drafted in the first round by the Diamondbacks in 2009, to blossom into a big-league mainstay. It might not be his only chance to make an All-Star team. Yet he knows how special his progress has been since fracturing his foot in his first appearance with the Sox midway through the 2016 season.
“I’m getting a little bit older,” he said. “I kind of realize, man, this window is not as big as it was when I was 20. When you get drafted, it’s like, man, there’s so much ahead of you now. But you don’t play forever, you know? You want to be done and say you accomplished everything you possibly could.”
Davidson was in New York for the 2013 All-Star Game. Well, sort of. He homered and was MVP of the Futures Game two days before the main event at Citi Field. By the time the big-league superstars took the field, Davidson had already traveled across the country to Reno, Nevada, and won the Triple-A Home Run Derby, too.
That was heady stuff, to a point. He wouldn’t mind getting a taste of the real deal.