A giddy Michael Chavis showed up to Fenway Park at the start of summer camp.
He’s always full of energy, a glass-half-full type of guy, but this was something else. Chavis couldn’t contain it. After more than a three-month shutdown because of COVID-19, he was elated to just have baseball back.
“I miss baseball,” Chavis said at the time. “I miss the Red Sox. I miss the team. Just the opportunity to be back and playing baseball is incredible.”
Two and a half months have passed since that moment. The Red Sox are 20-34, well out of a postseason berth and instead are staring down another offseason where there will, once again, be some turnover. They have played in the midst of a pandemic, away from their families. Within that, are the team struggles and individual on-field struggles and the often-positive Chavis finally cracked.
“The toughest thing, man — I’m just going to be honest — the mental aspect and emotional aspect this year has been very difficult,” Chavis said Sunday. “Lately, I haven’t really been having fun.”
Chavis’s response was certainly sincere. Moreover, it showed the emotional toll this season has really taken on him. The question was related to the joy he felt in hitting two homers off New York Yankee starter Deivi Garcia on Sunday in the Sox' 10-2 win. After saying that “it was great,” Chavis immediately shifted to pain.
“I kind of forgot why I played baseball,” Chavis said. “I’m pretty expressive in how I show my emotions, whether I am happy or sad. I play baseball because I love it. Not for anybody else. I had some really good conversation with some really, really good people and yesterday I kind of made the decision that I’m not going to let anybody else’s decisions determine my happiness. I had fun today.”
Chavis’s year has had its bumps and bruises. More gloom than sun. Despite Sunday’s two-homer day, he is slashing just .216/.267/.384. The power that fans saw when he came up last season has evaded him because of a bad approach and his inability to hit the high fastball. Nevertheless, perhaps, the human element, the lack of joy in all of this has equally played into his lack of productivity.
The weight of it all can be debilitating, magnified by the isolation due to team and league protocols. There are the moments when you’re sitting around in your hotel room thinking about how you chased that down-and-away slider with a runner on third. To focus in on Chavis, there’s the thought of setting the league on fire when he was first called up, only to get carved up ever since. In isolation, the monster becomes bigger. Scrolling through social media becomes even more toxic. Chavis couldn’t take the comments, so he deleted the app.
He had to rid the dead weight. According to Chavis, the two homers Sunday had nothing to do with mechanics. He just released some of the baggage.
“It was really just about getting out of my own way mentally,” Chavis said. “I just had a lot of stuff crowding and clouding my thoughts and I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t enjoy good moments. It was a weird time. I’m not proud of it. I kind of hate that it happened.”
The Red Sox have six games left. Chavis has played a significant amount, some at first base, some in left field. This, more than anything, is a time the Sox have used to see what they have in Chavis with Bobby Dalbec now a part of the picture. It’s yet to be determined if both of their high swing-and-miss rates can co-exist in the same lineup. More importantly, do the Sox need two players like that?
Time will tell. Chavis, though, is trying to block out outcomes. Free himself of results and lean on success as not necessarily a result but a feeling. He believes he’s come out of this season a better player despite scuffling for most of it.
“I’m a significantly better player this year than I was last year,” Chavis said. “I know the numbers don’t show the same, and I know a million people are going to tweet me saying I’m freaking wrong. I’ve learned a lot this year. It hasn’t been easy.”
His most important lesson is that he’s chosen to lean on joy.