August 25, 1986 12:00 PM

Some games are frivolous. Some games are life and death. Major league baseball—which falls somewhere in between—is the game that 25-year-old Glenn Davis plays.

In fact, baseball is the game that Davis is currently tearing up. As of last week, with the Astros in the midst of a heated pennant race, he’s tied with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Mike Schmidt for the National League lead in home runs and is second to the Mets’ Gary Carter for the NL lead in game-winning runs batted in (11). In this, his first full season in the majors, he was named to the All-Star team and there’s already talk of an MVP award. With his short, lightning-like stroke, the 6’3″, 205-pound first baseman seems destined to be more than a flash in the pan. “He reminds me of Harmon Killebrew,” says Astros coach Yogi Berra. “And he wasn’t too bad.” Right. “Killer” Killebrew blasted 573 home runs and wound up in the Hall of Fame.

But Davis has played those life and death games, too. As a teenager, he flirted with suicide more than once.

“Many nights I’d sit in my bedroom and cry,” Davis has said. “I’d hold a loaded gun to my head and play with it. I didn’t want to live,” he added. “My life was basically living in hell.”

Davis, who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., was the youngest of Gene and Margaret Davis’ three children. Margaret, a pious, churchgoing woman, “definitely believed if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. But she got carried away. I can’t remember a single day in my childhood when I didn’t get beaten by someone.” Gene, a postman, was an infielder who never made it to the majors. He didn’t conceal his bitterness and frustration from his son. “He couldn’t handle the pressure, and would always take the game home with him. I distinctly remember one time he was real mad about a game, he was speeding toward home and we got in a wreck.”

Davis’ parents divorced when he was 6. He lived with his mother and still found himself caught in the parental crossfire. “I think my mother was using me to get back at my father,” says Davis. “She would never let me see him, so I used to have to sneak over the back fence and meet him down at the corner. If she found out, I would be in big trouble.” Trouble was also what he found at school. “I felt different from all the other kids,” he recalls. “I had a chip on my shoulder. I was kind of chunky, and when the other kids called me ‘fat boy’ I used to half kill them.”

By the time he reached University Christian High School in Jacksonville, “I was your basic redneck kid,” he said recently. “I loved to fight. I never did take anyone’s life but I came close a couple of times.” When Davis wasn’t playing with a loaded gun he’d hold a knife to his stomach or fantasize about throwing himself in front of a car. “I wanted to kill myself because I felt nobody cared for me or loved me,” he says. “I guess what stopped me was baseball. I figured, ‘Hey, if you’re dead, you can’t play the game.’ ”

For years, the game gave the brooding youth the only moments when “I felt any peace.” On the high school baseball team he met a kid named Storm Davis—who now pitches for the Baltimore Orioles—and after an initial rivalry the two became fast friends. George Davis, Storm’s father and the school’s athletic director, took an interest in Glenn. Following high school graduation, the Davis family—no relation—virtually adopted Glenn. “We knew if he was out on his own, he would end up ruining his life,” says Norma Davis, George’s wife. “So from that moment on we opened our home to him and just accepted him as part of our lives.”

“I began to see a way of life I had never experienced,” Glenn says. “They were Christians, too, but they were very different from my mother. They were beginning to show me what love was all about.”

Yet Davis still had his problems. “He always was a very mischievous boy,” says Norma. “We knew he practically lived in bars and slept around a lot. I had to fight the girls off the phone.” The turning point, she recalls, came when Glenn, then a 22-year-old minor leaguer, returned home for a visit. “He greeted me with a cheery, ‘Hi, Mom!’ I just turned to him and told him, ‘I’m not sure I want you to call me that anymore. No son of mine would live the way you do.’ ” Glenn was profoundly shaken. “I started crying and I couldn’t stop,” he says. “I was ashamed crying in front of my mother so I went out to the stoop. Norma came out and started telling me about how Jesus can help people. I said, ‘God, if you’re up there and what they say is true, that your son can save me, then do it right now or I’m going to kill myself.’ All at once, the tears just stopped.” Soon after, Davis became a born-again Christian. His personality was also transformed. The reborn Davis is humble and shy. “He’s very quiet in the clubhouse,” reports Denis Menke, the Astro’s hitting coach. “He keeps to himself.”

While playing AA ball in Columbus, Ga., Davis met and married Teresa Beesley. The two, who are expecting their first child next winter, are virtually inseparable, so much so that Davis’ Houston teammates call Teresa “American Express Card.” “They say Glenn never leaves home without me,” she explains, laughing.

As for his natural parents, Davis has begun to accept and forgive them. “We don’t have the typical mother-father-son relationship—nothing even moderately close to that,” he admits. “But there is love. I call my mother from time to time and I send her cards on her birthday—which I never used to do. My father writes me letters and I talk to him too.” As for his adoptive family, his brother Storm is elated by Glenn’s success. “I love it,” he says. “The only thing as exciting as this was playing in the World Series, and I hope that’s where all this ends up—with the Astros and Orioles in the Series.” Though proud, Norma Davis remains unawed. “I tell him you’re not an All-Star to me, you’re just plain Glenn Davis and you’d better remember it,” she says.