BALTIMORE — Diddy Rosenbluth and his friends came up with a plan. For spring break, the New York City college students mapped out a six-day baseball road trip with stops in Boston, Washington, and Philadelphia, before wrapping up back home on Tuesday with a Yankees game.
But when they realized they could see Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis — who is in the midst of setting an MLB record for most at-bats without a hit by a positional player — they pivoted.
Out went a planned visit to Boston. Instead, the trio drove four hours from Queens to Baltimore to see the Orioles lose 8-5 Thursday afternoon to the Oakland Athletics.
“We thought there’s no better place to come to see history,” Rosenbluth said.
The three friends — like commentators, teammates and fans across the country — wanted to see Davis end the tortured drama by somehow, someway remembering how to hit a baseball.
They didn’t get their wish.
Davis went 0-for-3 against the Athletics and is now hitless in his last 53 at-bats, as well as in 61 plate appearances, dating back to last season.
The once-feared slugger, who set a franchise record with 53 home runs in 2013, has become the baseball equivalent of a car crash at home plate. No matter how gruesome his latest strike out or pop up, no one can look away.
As Davis progressed through his second at-bat of the afternoon, Geoffrey Hickman stood the entire time with his phone in his hand, shooting video.
It was a common sight every time the 33-year-old stepped to the plate. It’s been so long since Davis had a hit — Sept. 14 of last year — that Baltimore fans have gone from lusty booing and heckling to sarcastic applause to what now seems like a genuine concern for Davis and the toll the hitless streak is taking on the former All-Star.
The 33-year-old slugger said he was surprised by the booing that greeted his plate appearances on Opening Day. Just three years into a seven-year, $161 million contract, Davis is a player in sharp decline. He hit just .168 last season — an MLB record for lowest batting average ever by a qualified hitter.
But as the former star’s current woes have gotten worse, Baltimore fans have become more forgiving.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said he doesn’t know why the fans’ attitude shifted, but perhaps, they’ve have grown sympathetic to Davis’ situation. Or perhaps with smaller crowds, fans aren’t as eager to boo.
These days, the Orioles, at the beginning of a rebuild, don’t draw huge crowds. Thursday’s afternoon game had an attendance of 8,374 — up from Monday’s 6,585, when Davis initially set the record. The latter was the franchise’s lowest paid-attendance at Camden Yards.
“This slump, while frustrating as a fan, I can understand, and for him as well, I’m trying my best to support him,” said Tim Anderson, who has been a season-ticket holder for seven years. “He’s such a nice guy. He does so much off the field that I want him to do well.”
Not everyone, however, is as understanding.
“I hope he does well … but it’s got to the point where it’s time to move on,” said Tom Rose, who has been a season-ticket holder for 12 years. “The Orioles are playing with eight men offensively. We got eight men in the lineup. I mean, it’s an automatic out. It’s like Little League.”
And few fan bases understand that baseball is a roller coaster better than Baltimore fans — from highs like legend Cal Ripken Jr.’s iron-man record of 2,632 consecutive games to lows like the 14 straight losing seasons from 1998 to 2011.
When the team is down, Baltimore knows how to make lemonade out of lemons: So Davis is setting an all-time mark for futility? How about a round or two of free drinks if and when the streak finally ends. That’s how several Baltimore bars intend to commemorate Davis’ slice of MLB history.
Streaks create stress, says Dan Evans, a career baseball executive. Evans was the assistant general manager with the Chicago White Sox in 1990 when then-rookie Robin Ventura went through a hitless streak that lasted 41 at-bats. Evans saw up close how draining a streak can be. He could see it on his face and “everything circling around him.”
And in today’s game, Evans told The Washington Times, such a streak becomes even more magnified.
“There’s so much awareness and publicity, there’s nowhere to hide,” Evans said. “It really tests the player’s character and it tests everybody around them. This is when teams, agents, friends really come to support people.”
The Orioles have tried to be understanding of Davis’ situation. They removed him from the lineup for two straight days, though he was used as a pinch hitter in Wednesday’s loss. The team hoped a reset would help the veteran.
Davis’ teammates praise the veteran for his attitude during this stretch. They compliment his work ethic, noting his work with hitting coach Don Long over the last few days.
Right fielder Trey Mancini said he doesn’t think people realize how tough it can be on a player — noting baseball is a “mentally draining” game.
“I can tell you in t-ball, I can remember times I wasn’t hitting the ball like I wanted,” Mancini said. “It weighs on you. It’s the toughest game in the world and it’s not for the faint of heart to play this game. Chris is handling it like a complete professional and as well as you’d ever expect anyone to.”
Davis looked better Thursday, though he still failed to record a hit. He got ahead in the count, remained patient and drew a walk. Twice, it briefly appeared as if his bad fortune would finally be reversed.
During Davis’ first appearance, he swung and connected with a line drive that went deep to center field — only for the potential hit to be caught by Oakland’s Ramon Laureano. Later on, he connected on a pitch, but grounded out to the shortstop.
“Two really good at-bats, first two at-bats,” Hyde said. “Then he drew the walk. He was deep in counts.”
Davis said he felt like he was seeing the ball much better, saying his at-bats looked “completely different.”
Still, until he records a hit, Davis will continue to make history. He also broke another record Thursday, surpassing former Cleveland Indians second baseman Tony Bernazard for most consecutive plate appearances without a hit.
Davis and the Orioles will now head to Boston for a four-game series and then to Tampa Bay for a three-game series against the Rays. They won’t return to Camden Yards until Friday, April 19. But when they do, Davis can now likely expect cheers — even if the streak is still going.
“I appreciate it so much,” Davis said. “Really, the last few nights, just encouraging yells and shouts throughout the game — I know they’re behind me. I know the people that boo aren’t the majority and I really appreciate the fans showing up and backing me.”