May 16, 2012
This feature appeared in the Wednesday edition of the K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
The world of competition is taking advantage of opportunities presented. That’s whether challenged by a King Salmon, or a 95-mile per hour fastball.
No one knows that better than Kansas State junior baseball player Jon Davis, who has experienced, and defeated, both.
Davis, the first native Alaskan to ever put on a Wildcat baseball uniform, wavers when quizzed about which is a bigger thrill between the big catch of a fish, or the big run-scoring hit in the gap. What he does know is where his future lies.
“My dad’s a commercial fisherman and that’s what I plan to be,” said the native of Juneau, Alaska. “I’ve spent time with him when he’s doing his thing, and I don’t even consider it working. It is hard work, but it’s also that much fun and that much of a challenge.”
While the baseball season runs from April into October, those are the same months that Davis has his line in the chilly waters of the USA’s most northern state.
“Dad fishes for the Kings in May, Chinook in June and July, Sockeye in August and the Silver Salmon in September,” said Davis. “It’s only for a few months, but you really get after it when the season is on.”
As comfortable as a rod is in his hands, so is a baseball bat. So much so that the Davis family moved to Vista, Calif., so their son could focus on his baseball career when a freshman in high school.
“So much of your work was in a gymnasium in Alaska,” said Davis on how you work on your baseball skills in the most frigid state in the union. “The reason we moved was so I could play baseball. Dad could still go back to fish during the summer, but we moved to California for baseball and better exposure.
“We were looking for a more progressive baseball life instead of focusing on hunting and fishing,” said Davis, who admits to missing the scenery, fishing and mountain biking in his home state. “We all knew that people in Alaska didn’t have much of a chance to play college baseball, which had always been my goal. Moving to California would allow me to play every day and hit in the cage in my backyard every day. My game just progressed little bit by little bit.”
Mr. Google says the trip south to Davis’ California homes takes two days and one hour, and covers 2,271.2 miles. Davis remembers the journey vividly.
“My dad drives older vehicles and it was pretty cold… in the negatives... 30 or 40 below,” said Davis. “It was one of those deals where you put cardboard in front of the radiator to keep the car running. It’s a rugged lifestyle.”
In other words, playing baseball when it’s in the low-40s in March is nothing to the 5-foot-7, 175-pound Alaska native.
At Vista High School, Davis collected All-State honorable mention honors as a senior en route to earning a scholarship to perennial West Coast baseball power Cal State Fullerton.
As K-State head coach Brad Hill explains it, “Jon got caught up in a numbers thing and it didn’t work out at Fullerton.”
Didn’t work out to the point that Davis says, “I contemplated going back (to Alaska) to start fishing. It’s the only thing I knew how to do.”
Instead, he transferred to Palomar College where he earned first-team All-Pacific Coast honors hitting .331 during a 28-11 season. That’s where K-State associate head coach John Szefc heard of Davis’ availability.
“He was a switch-hitter at the time and we were looking for that utility guy… a versatile guy who had the ability to get on base,” said Hill. “While he didn’t have a lot of baseball experience, we knew from one year at Fullerton he would have been taught a lot about the fundamentals of the game.”
Initially, there was reason to wonder about the K-State’s new signee. In the Wildcats’ first 25 games, he was 1-of-18 at the plate with 11 strikeouts while coming off the bench.
“I was pretty frustrated and demoralized,” Davis admitted. “But when I got the nod to start, I took advantage of it.”
With the team mired in a bit of an offensive slump, Hill stuck Davis into the lineup on March 31, which was an 8-7 win over Oklahoma with Davis collecting a pair of hits.
“We had become stagnant,” said Hill of Davis, who went 9-for-17 in his first five games as a starter and have never left the starting lineup. “We needed something to happen. We gave Jon an opportunity and he’s made the most of it.”
Since that start, Davis has been the toughest out on the team in the last five weeks of the season, raising his batting average to .315, which includes hitting .366 since becoming a starter 27 games ago.
Davis tops the team in being hit by pitches with 12, which has helped him reach base in 22 of the 27 games he has started. He’s had nine multiple-hit games, which includes three-hit games on three occasions. While fanning 11 times in his first 18 at bats, he’s struck out just 19 times in the last 27 games.
“My goal is to get on base two or three times a game whether it’s with a hit, by walk or being hit by a pitch,” said Davis. “My goal is to help the team win, and I’m willing to sacrifice my body to do that. The game isn’t about me, it’s about the team. We’re in this together as fielders, pitchers and hitters. We’re all working together to get a W.”
Davis and the Wildcats need two more W’s to assure themselves of a spot in next week’s Big 12 Conference Baseball Championship in Oklahoma City. Those opportunities will come Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Texas Tech.