Tampa Bay Rays
Davis gives fans something to 'look' forward to
ST. PETERSBURG - Lake Wales High baseball coach Jasone DeWitt laughs when he's asked about "the look." It's what Wade Davis, the Rays rookie pitching sensation and former Lake Wales standout, gives batters when he looks in. Though unrevealing as to the emotions it hides, the expression has an intensity to it that's, well, unnerving. "It's funny you brought that up," DeWitt said Monday. "I'll go back to his senior year in the district tournament against Bartow High School. He walked into my classroom during lunch - we would discuss how we were going to pitch guys and so on - and he had that look. "He's a competitor, and he has that stare. Every time I see it on TV now, it's the same."Davis has made three starts since his call-up Sept. 4. Given that two of them have been stupendous, the 24-year-old is one of the most compelling reasons to watch the Rays as they play out their final two weeks. Manager Joe Maddon, who will start the 6-foot-5 right-hander Wednesday against the Mariners, smiles when the topic turns to "the look." "It's almost like Andy Pettitte peering over the top of the glove," he said. "The little bit of beard and the kind of narrow eyes make it even more demonstrative. I think it serves him well. "If you are hitting and you see this guy out there with his somewhat maniacal look about him, it's always going to work in your favor." Davis grew up in Lake Wales. He played soccer at the YMCA, made some Little League all-star teams and blended in as a nice player in a region that produces a lot of nice players. Although he's the second cousin of former All-Star catcher Jody Davis, Wade never attracted any undue attention. In fact, Ben Davis, Wade's father, can hardly believe Wade has risen to the major leagues from his area's talent pool. "Lake Wales had a pretty good size Little League," Ben Davis said. "To my knowledge, there have only been three kids come out of here who have ever set foot on a major league field. One is Pat Borders, one is Cleatus Davidson and one is Wade." Borders, a catcher and designated hitter, played for nine major league teams in 18 seasons. Davidson, a middle infielder, had a small latte with the Twins in 1999. Davis already is competing for a spot in the Rays' 2010 rotation. At Lake Wales High, Davis pitched as a sophomore for then-coach Chad Barnhardt, who had been USF's first starting quarterback and now works in the banking industry. DeWitt took over the program the following year, and Davis, beset with shoulder tendinitis, was relegated to first base and DH duty. He thought he might never pitch again, believing his offense gave him his best chance to advance. "I figured if I was going to play baseball at the next level somewhere, college or whatever, I was going to have to hit a lot of homers and hit for a high average," Davis says. "I didn't know I had a good enough arm to pitch." As it turns out, he did. The summer before Davis' senior year, DeWitt nominated him for a Team One Showcase, during which players work out and play games in front of college and professional scouts. The University of Florida offered a scholarship, and Davis, who wasn't interesting in going pro if drafted in a late round, signed. But as his arm strengthened, Davis grew in his confidence and had a dominant senior season, pitching to an 0.79 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 71 innings. The Rays drafted him with the fourth pick of the third round in 2004. Davis turned heads during a spring training game this year in Tampa, when he started against the Yankees and retired the six hitters he faced, striking out Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira along the way. With the benefit of hindsight, Davis believes the Rays set the right course by bringing him along slowly in the minors. "Now that I'm here, I can pick out things that I didn't have two years ago or a year ago," he says. "If I had pitched up here (a year or two ago), with the mentality and stuff I had, I might have done OK. But I think I have a lot more going for me now that I can use." Davis has certainly looked ready. In his debut Sept. 6 against the Tigers, he struck out six of the first seven and allowed only a run in seven innings before the bullpen lost the game late. After a rough start at Boston on Sept. 12 in which he lasted only 2 2/3 innings, Davis threw a four-hit shutout Thursday at Baltimore. DeWitt isn't surprised that Davis' work ethic is paying off. And he appreciates Davis has remained connected to his program. "He comes back before spring training and works out with our guys," DeWitt said. "He'll come down, throw a bullpen, go through (pitcher fielding practice) with us and talk to the kids. "If we're doing PFP, he's sprinting to first. He's sprinting on the back end of a double play. It's good for our players to see, because, while they hear it from me that they have to hustle, they can see a guy who's now a big-leaguer come out and demonstrate it." And then that other thing Wade Davis can show them - that look of his. It's pure focus.
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994.