Michael Chavis made sure to bring his truck from Georgia to Boston when he got his first major league call-up in April. Back home in Marietta, he grew up pointing out all of the nicest trucks on the road, comparing them between friends and dreaming of what he might drive one day. But as he tooled around his new town, Chavis would go days without seeing another truck, and it didn't take long for him to figure out why.
"There's some roads I'll drive down, and it's, like, two lanes, one going each way," Chavis said. "I fit in one and a half."
The difficulty of driving a truck on city roads built for horses and carriages -- not to mention how hard it is to find parking -- is among the many lessons Chavis is learning as a 23-year-old rookie adjusting to his new life in New England.
He's also learning what it's like to play in a Boston Red Sox uniform and the intense scrutiny that comes with it. He has quickly caught the attention of Sox fans, who often oooh and ahhh at Chavis' swing, reminiscent of a slingshot trying to shoot a baseball to Mars, swing or miss. So far this season, he's hitting .255/.329/.450 with 16 home runs, often of the moonshot variety, and he ranks 15th in the majors in average home run distance, at 419 feet. Slowly but surely, the Chavis jerseys have started to pop up on Jersey Street.
When Chavis realized that driving a truck might not be the best way to navigate Boston, he bought two scooters for himself and his girlfriend. Chavis, who didn't play video games regularly growing up, now plays Fortnite to catch up with his best friend, Christian "Fuzzy" Furr, and dish about life in the majors. Theirs is a relationship that has sustained both through the toughest of times.
Chavis has been documenting it all -- at least the stuff that happens at the plate. After every at-bat, regardless of outcome, Chavis comes back to the Red Sox dugout, opens a journal and pours his emotions onto the page. If he strikes out on a pitch in the dirt, he calls himself an idiot, "as stupid as can be." He notes how different organizations pitch to him, trying to pick up on patterns in the plan of attack of opponents. He calls it one of his coping mechanisms.
"It's like acknowledging that was horrible," Chavis said. "The same with the positive. I can tell myself I'm unstoppable, but after that, I gotta keep going. Gotta keep going, keep moving, keep progressing."
The first time Chavis struggled on a baseball field was in his first season playing professional baseball. There are many adjustments that come with being a professional athlete, including living life on the road, the long bus trips and, for many, being away from family for an extended period for the first time. But the first-round pick didn't expect to hit just .223/.277/.405 through his first 109 games.
Growing up in Marietta, 24 miles northwest of Atlanta, Chavis was known as the kid who would hit, hit, hit and still want to hit. Punishments from his mom often meant being unable to hit into the screen in his backyard.
"His passion is baseball, but his true passion is hitting," Fuzzy said.
Fuzzy, who is two years younger than Chavis, had heard the hype around town about the sixth-grader who had been hitting dingers as far back as T-ball. Chavis' mother, Dorothy, was Fuzzy's kindergarten teacher. But Fuzzy didn't meet Chavis until they became the two best athletes at Eastside Christian School -- at which graduating classes average around 30 students -- and they immediately stuck together at the hip. "We talked every day. We texted every day," Fuzzy said. "Even our girlfriends are kind of, like, I could probably say, a little bit jealous of how much we talk."
You could often find Chavis and Fuzzy at the fields and basketball courts around town. Past the left-field fence at Cadenhead Field, the home of the Sprayberry High School Yellow Jackets, sat Sandy Plains Road, where a stoplight would accumulate traffic. To test his prowess, a teenaged Chavis would grab his bat and see how many cars he could hit before the light turned green.
"He'd get off the bus, he wanted to go hit," said Casey Smith, Chavis' hitting coach back home. "Other kids go do whatever. He's going to hit. He's frustrated about something, he's going to go hit."
As Chavis struggled through the minor leagues, his life at home was also falling apart. In 2015, Chavis, along with his mother and sister, had a falling out with his father, which he chooses not to discuss publicly. Struggling to hit for the first time in his life only compounded the emotional strain.
"I didn't go see a doctor, but I was depressed, dude," Chavis said. "Whatever was going on away from the field, I was playing bad, and that was the first time. So when I would try to escape reality and go play baseball, I would perform horribly, which I had never experienced before. I'd never felt that before."
"We're literally family. We do every holiday together. We travel everywhere together. Like, I talk to that dude every single night."Michael Chavis on his best friend, Christian "Fuzzy" Furr
Chavis didn't know what to do. At the time, he says, he was surrounded by negative people. "Even if you're just sitting there chilling, and someone's like, 'Man, today sucked,' the next day, you might be like, 'Today sucks too, actually,' and it snowballs," he said.
It affected his play on the field. He struggled in his second season as well, hitting .237/.313/.372 in 81 games between low-A and high-A. He went on the injured list after tearing the UCL in his thumb and later played through a fractured finger.
Around the same time, Fuzzy lost his mom, Jule, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer many years earlier. She had seven surgeries in the four years the boys attended high school and the cancer went into remission six times. "I would literally cling to him and his family, and I would just go to all of Michael's games," Fuzzy said. "That's when we really started to become how close we are now."
After games, the boys would sit down and talk about the pains of growing into adulthood, whether it be living away from family, people fading into the background of life or the emotional void of losing a parent.
"He is my brother," Chavis said. "Like, we're not blood brothers, but he is my brother."
Chavis also sees Fuzzy's dad as a father figure, while Fuzzy -- who refers to Chavis' mom as "Miss Dorothy" -- considers his old teacher his second mom.
With the help of his surrogate family, Chavis began distancing himself from people who brought negative energy into his life and cutting out people he didn't trust.
"I'm not saying it was, like, immediate, but I gradually noticed maybe today was a little bit better," Chavis said.
As the reporters in Tampa crowded around him, Chavis looked at the lights and cameras with a cheek-to-cheek smile after a tumultuous journey to his first MLB game. He arrived in the clubhouse in the fifth inning after being dropped off three blocks from the stadium with his backpack, suitcase and other personal items. He was greeted by a text from Fuzzy, who beat him to Florida after a seven-hour drive from Alabama. In his major league debut, Chavis lined a double to the center-field wall off of Rays reliever Jose Alvarado to set up the winning run, one of the most memorable entries in his journal.
"I'm going to turn off professional mode," Chavis said, channeling the enthusiasm of a kid explaining how his new toy works. "That was awesome, dude! I just need a second. Y'all are here in this moment with me. I just need to celebrate this."
Said Mookie Betts the next day: "That Chavis kid, he can really hit." Many in the organization expected the 2014 first-rounder to make his major league debut this season, but few expected him to stick so quickly, let alone as a starter. He started filling in at second base when Dustin Pedroia (who offered Chavis a place to crash as he settled into Boston), Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez all hit the IL and later moved to first to fill in for the injured Steve Pearce and Mitch Moreland. Chavis has played in 80 of the team's 103 games so far this season.
Last year's road was rockier. Chavis failed a PED test in 2018, testing positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, and served an 80-game suspension. Red Sox stars such as Chris Sale and Rick Porcello have expressed their disdain regarding performance-enhancing supplements. Chavis declined to comment on the suspension, though he denies knowingly taking a banned substance. His teammates, he says, have accepted him despite the suspension.
"If you don't know me, you have no reason to believe what I said, which I understand," Chavis told the Boston Globe in 2018. "I can handle that."
Chavis still expresses trepidation about being sent back to the minor leagues. When he first came up, those fears popped up every day, but they've slowly been dissipating as the calendar ticks closer to October. About a month into his major league career, Chavis routinely found himself in the same batting practice group as Betts (Chavis' main mentor in the clubhouse), designated hitter J.D. Martinez and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Somehow, he didn't feel out of place.
"The little things surprise me," he said. "Like, everybody's human. I saw J.D. strike out. That's one of the cooler things, from the outside looking in, you forget that they're human, especially looking in from the minor leagues. Just being a fan, where you don't get to see them every day, you only see the game. You don't see them in the cage trying to figure out their swing. You just assume every day, they walk out there, and they know exactly what they're doing. Everybody goes through stuff, man."
Fans are starting to recognize Chavis on the street, which he's still getting used to. Chavis, one of the most active Red Sox players on Twitter, routinely tweets "11:11" as a reminder to fellow Christians to pray at that time each day. In May, Chavis acknowledged the press box after a kid announced his at-bat over the Fenway Park public-address system and then he hit a home run over the Green Monster. On some days, fans recognize Chavis riding his scooter from Back Bay to the ballpark and ask him for autographs as he zips by.
All of the newfound attention has made Chavis, Fuzzy and their collective family even tighter.
"We keep our faith. We keep our family close," Fuzzy said. "That's my favorite part about this family."
Said Chavis: "We're literally family. We do every holiday together. We travel everywhere together. Like, I talk to that dude every single night."
Recently, a kid asked Chavis to sign a baseball card. The Red Sox infielder took a moment to flip it around and look at the back. It had his team, his number, his position and his stats. It has been weird, he says, to see people nervous to talk to him.
"When I was in Pawtucket two, three months ago, I was the exact same person," he said. "It's just, people see me in a different way. It's not a bad thing. I understand it. It's just weird to be on the other side. It's almost like you want to say, 'I am a person.'"
For so much of his young life, Chavis was the fan looking up to the players, hoping to catch a moment of their attention. Being on the flip side has given him a new perspective.
"Being the young guy, I try not to get upset and stuff like that," he said, "but there have been a couple of times where I would be upset after a bad at-bat. Somebody almost every time pulls me to the side, and it's always the same thing."
Just a reminder, you play for the Boston Red Sox right now.
"And every time, I'm like, 'Oh s---, that's wild.'"