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Why Matt Davidson Is Thriving On the Field (and On His Podcast)

The White Sox’s designated hitter started 2018 off with a bang: three home runs on opening day. Now he’s got nine, tied for second in all of baseball, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Matt Davidson has been coming home a lot more this season.   Photo: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

White Sox slugger Matt Davidson has long had the capacity to well… go long, but it’s been finding consistency while overcoming nearly insurmountable setbacks that now has the 27-year-old in a groove.

The Yucaipa, California, native started the 2018 season by hitting three home runs on opening day in Kansas City, which led to a 14-7 Sox rout over the Royals. He was only the fourth player in MLB history to hit three out on the season’s first day.

“That’s the cool thing about baseball, you do one thing and all of a sudden it’s like ‘Somebody did it before you,’” Davidson said. “The picture might be black and white, but somebody’s always done it before you.”

After a pair of homers in consecutive games in Kansas City on Thursday and Friday, Davidson did do something no one before him has. He became the first opposing player to hit seven home runs at Kauffman Stadium in a season.

Davidson’s ability to give baseballs a new zip code has already drawn comparisons to one of Chicago’s most beloved home-run hitters.

“Reminds me of a young [Paul] Konerko,” says Steve Hayward, a former scout with the Philadelphia Phillies and a current instructor at Strikes Baseball Academy in Broadview. “His short, quick swing, head down on and after contact…. Looks just like Paul’s swing.”

“He’s different than I was,” Konerko says of Davidson. “He’s got way, way more power than I had, as far as just raw power to hit balls out all over the field. If he hits it good, it’s gone. It doesn’t matter about weather, field, all that. He’s got that kind of power.”

Matt putting himself in a position to showcase his power in the majors took a lot of work and perseverance. He battled to keep his dream alive in the trenches of the minor leagues after a disappointing stretch during which his personal life changed dramatically.

“I got traded over here in December of 13’ [from the Arizona Diamondbacks],” Davidson said. “So 14’ was my first year and I struggled really bad in 14’ and 15’ and had to go through a lot of changes. I got married, I had a couple kids, my grandparents both died, just a lot of changes.

“I almost walked away from the game [for] a little bit and was like ‘I really don’t want to do this anymore.’ The schedule is so hard. I never really failed my whole life until that point and then you just keep on going and you work so hard. You’re at the field for five, six hours working on that, then you go in the game and you still suck and then over and over and over again. We were in Charlotte, my wife was pregnant, we didn’t know what was going on.”

As Matt’s struggle to find his game with the Charlotte Knights—the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate—grew longer, and his wife Julianne was pregnant with the couple’s first child, he considered going to work with his father, an electrician.

“For me, I look back at it now, I guess it would be a coward decision to make,” Davidson said. “To finally really be faced with something that was very, very difficult for the first time in my life and quit something. That’s not something that I would want to teach my children or anything like that.”

Rather than quit, Matt sought help with his swing from former White Sox assistant hitting coach and current White Sox minor-league hitting coordinator Mike Gellinger, who had worked closely with Konerko.

“We hit with the same guy,” Davidson said. “The same principles he was teaching Paul he teaches me. I listen to whatever he says. I trust him with my swing. It’s all from Mike Gellinger.”

“I think some guys are seekers of answers,” Konerko said. “And I think with him, he was like ‘I have to find out answers.’ And he picked a good guy to find out answers from because Mike Gellinger has a lot of answers when it comes to hitting.”

The work with Gellinger soon began paying off, but there would be another obstacle to overcome.

“In 16’ I made a lot of changes, had a great season in Triple-A, got called up, first game broke my foot,” Davidson said. “I was kind of like ‘Oh, wow’, especially coming off those two bad years. But I think me getting back in the big leagues and getting that hit [an RBI single in Sox debut on June 30] and just being there, getting through that rough patch I had in my life really was good enough for me as far as breaking my foot didn’t affect me too much.”

Davidson decided 2017 would be his year, and for the most part it was. He hit 26 home runs and had 68 RBIs while battling through a wrist injury. With a clean bill of health and a clear head in 2018, Davidson is in a four-way tie for second place in home runs, with nine on the young season.

Another component that helped Davidson through the “rough patch” and injuries was his sense of humor.

“We have to deal with failure on an everyday basis,” Davidson said. “If you’re too uptight it really will kind of make you just go crazy.”

The power hitter’s comedic sensibilities are one of the elements that make his untitled podcast with White Sox TV play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti a fun and unique listen.

“We very much enjoy doing it,” Benetti said. “He rips on me, then he rips on me some more, and then I take a shot, then he rips on me some more. It’s great. It works well I think.”

The first episode unearthed such gems as Davidson saying Benetti brings Alexa on the road because he doesn’t have any friends. The two also introduced the running gag of the show not having a name.

“He has thick skin,” Davidson said of his co-host. “He’s a great dude and he gives it right back to me as well. He’s laughing all the time too [at] some of the stuff we say on that podcast.”

The duo’s player/broadcaster dynamic is fairly groundbreaking in the podcast world.

“I don’t think it’s something that a lot of people have done,” Benetti said. “I don’t know that anybody has done it necessarily. It’s a really interesting dynamic and frankly he’s the executive producer of the thing. We joke around, but he’s the one getting guests and scheduling stuff.”

Davidson got the idea to do the podcast at Sox Fest in January when his and Jason’s chemistry wooed an audience at a kid’s seminar.

“We were going back and forth in front of the fans and everybody really liked it and everybody was kind of egging us on, so just kind of thought of that idea at Sox Fest. ‘Maybe we should continue this and I guess a podcast would be the best way.’”

For Matt, the podcast is much more than a way for him to unwind and kill time.

“I like interviewing people. I like learning from people, seeing how people view the world or view the game, people’s interests. So I like kind of doing that.”

Perhaps Davidson’s inquisitive nature also separates him from other hitters.

“The best hitters are always going to be the guys that are better thinkers,” Konerko said. “Because they have to be able to handle it, they’re not going to be able to shut off their mind, they really have to turn their mind into a weapon and if they can’t do that, and I’ve been there many times, if you can’t do it then it’s a real tough existence up in the big leagues. If you can and you can turn it, those are always the most dangerous guys because when they’re doing well they know why they’re doing well.”

Seeing the way Davidson handled hosting duties on the podcast didn’t shock his partner.

“The one place where I wasn’t surprised is I always thought of Matt as a really thoughtful guy,” Benetti said. “He’s got a really good heart and he’s a pretty interesting guy.”

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