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Matt Davidson too focused to get caught up in opening day moment

in Chicago White Sox by

You’ll have to excuse Matt Davidson if he doesn’t seem excited after a historic three home runs on opening day, as the Chicago White Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals 14-7 on the road.

On a day where Major League Baseball’s premier strongman Giancarlo Stanton hit two big blasts of his own and took social media by storm, Davidson’s outing must have been the quietest three-homer opener ever. After Thursday, there have only ever been four such performances.

But Stanton leading the highlight shows likely won’t matter much to Davidson, who actually hit the ball harder and farther more frequently than anybody before him on Thursday. His three shots of 113.9 MPH or better made him the first player to record such exit velocities on home runs in the same game in the Statcast era. Nobody had ever even done it twice.

But three fleeting — albeit incredible — moments can’t erase the humility crafted by years of struggle.

The former Top 100 prospect saw his stock plummet after a miserable 2014 season. It took him two years to even get another sniff of the big leagues.

In 2017, Davidson made the roster but he was part of a platoon at designated hitter. Eventually, 26 home runs helped make him a fixture in the lineup and earned him a roster spot heading into 2018.

At 27, he was able to go through spring with job security he’d never had before. And it clearly paid dividends.

He raked all spring long, slashing .328/.411/.594 and hitting 4 home runs while driving in 19. Possibly more important than any of those numbers, a refined approach at the plate helped him draw 9 walks in 73 plate appearances after just 19 on 443 plate appearances throughout the entire 2017 season.

So when we snap back to Thursday, it’s easy to see why White Sox fans are excited to think that this somehow represents something new. And it very well may be the start of a career year for Davidson, but when you consider how hard he fell from baseball’s graces just four years ago it shouldn’t surprise you to see how he reacted after the game.

“It’s awesome. It’s something you dream of. First opening day start for me, so it was really special. But we have a long season, so — you know — we’ll move on to the next one,” Davidson told Chuck Garfien of NBC Sports Chicago in a TV interview.

When approached with the idea that Paul Konerko, who helped mentor him during the offseason, thought he might hit 40 home runs this year, he shrugged it off by thanking his personal hitting coach Mike Gellinger and turning towards what’s ahead.

“Good start, but let’s keep it up for the next 161 and get in the playoffs,” Davidson stated matter of factly.

It was quintessential Davidson, the Southern California kid who prefers deadpan to bombast and will be recording a podcast solely designed to allow him to rip on White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti throughout the season.

Anybody else might have allowed for the excitement of a historic performance to show, but not Davidson. Because he can’t afford it.

As brilliant as Thursday was and as close to the precipice as Davidson might seem, it’s not going to be a three-homer day that gets him to where he wants to go. The former first-round pick wants simply to be a long-term regular in a big-league lineup and he knows that the White Sox aren’t looking specifically for power displays.

Everybody has known for a long time that Davidson has 40-homer power. They also know that he’s going to strike out excessively.

It’s what he does in between that they’re watching closely.

Yes, the power has to be there. It’s the constant in his game, but what Rick Hahn and the front office are looking for is an extension of the spring as a whole.

Multi-homer games certainly won’t be frowned upon, but without a consistent body of work showing that Davidson has actually matured at the plate they only underscore how his talent is undercut by his approach.

Any White Sox fan would love to believe that Thursday was a sign of changing times. Hell, Davidson himself probably wants to believe it.

And when we look back at his career retrospectively, we may wind up looking at this moment as the catalyst. But anyone who has been through what Davidson has been through professionally knows they don’t have the luxury of comfortability.

It doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy. Barrelling up a baseball is a pure, uncut drug. And even as he downplayed everything he couldn’t help but crack a wry smile or two in his postgame interview.

But Davidson is too focused to let a day like Thursday take him off track. He’s worked too long and too hard to get back here.

At the moment, Davidson is a bridge to what comes next for the rebuilding White Sox. So the only way to make sure his three-homer performance on opening day isn’t the answer to a trivia question is to make sure this is simply one of many lasting memories.

Ryan Wooden is a full-time sports writer based in the Chicago suburbs. In addition to co-founding The Chicago Sports Column, he is a weekend editor for BetChicago and covers prep sports in DuPage County for the Daily Herald and Shaw Media. Find him away from the computer (or don't) on some body of water or some golf course somewhere.