View Full Version : 'Gramps' just wants to pitch in (Ben Davis article)

06-08-2009, 11:34 AM
'Gramps' just wants to pitch in

By Doug Fernandes
Herald-Tribune Columnist

Published: Monday, June 8, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 8:12 p.m.

His Sarasota Reds teammates call Ben Davis "gramps,'' or any other like designation of advanced maturity.

Earlier this season, one of them yelled something to the 32-year-old on a typically noisy minor-league bus ride.

Davis asked him to repeat it.

Gramps really should have known better.

"He told me to turn my hearing aid up,'' Davis said. "It's fun. Sometimes I do feel older, but that's the way it goes.''

Right about now, you're flipping through the mental hardball Rolodex -- Ben Davis, Ben Davis, Ben Davis. You know you know the name from somewhere.

Somewhere in the past. A name once recalled, now forgotten.

"People remember me when I came up at 21, 22,'' he said. " 'Wow, is that still the same guy?' Fifteen years later, I'm still doing my thing.''

Back in 1995, Ben Davis was going to be baseball's next big thing. Can't miss. Ridiculously talented. A 6-foot-4 catcher who would redefine the position.

The San Diego Padres took him out of Malvern (Pa.) Prep, the second overall pick in the June amateur draft, just after the Angels selected Darin Erstad.

Davis was drafted ahead of Kerry Wood, Todd Helton and Roy Halladay. USA Today called Davis the best high school catcher since Dale Murphy in 1974.

He made his debut for the Padres in 1998 at age 21. We'd like to report that Ben Davis went on to fulfill those lofty expectations with a spectacular major-league career.

But the stark reality is, he never did, winding up playing seven seasons for four teams, compiling a .237 average, hitting 38 home runs with 204 RBI.

Probably best known as the player who broke up the 2001 perfect game bid of Arizona's Curt Schilling with an eighth-inning bunt single, Davis wistfully remembered how "can't miss'' became "what happened?''

"I guess it was just my bat really started to lack a little bit,'' he said. "I wasn't able to hit the ball the way I was projected to hit the ball, and it was frustrating.

"It seemed the harder I worked, the worse results I got -- what the hell is going on? From that standpoint, I think mentally it got to me. Here I am, a big guy, and I'm breaking bats and doing all kinds of stuff.''

After the Baltimore organization released him last year, Davis went home and began playing in a couple of men's leagues, this time, as a pitcher.

Davis knew Shawn Pender, an advance scout for the Reds, who lived in the area. He asked Pender to come and watch him throw.

He did, and after Pender consulted with Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty, the Reds signed Davis to a contract.

"I didn't think any teams would take me as a catcher,'' said Davis, who last pitched in high school. "I knew I still had a good arm and I knew I could throw strikes.''

Employing a fastball in the low 90s, a split and slider, Davis has appeared in nine games for the Sarasota Reds this season, allowing 10 hits in 11 2/3 innings, striking out 14 and saving four games, with a 3.09 ERA.

He might already be in Class AA, had not a shoulder injury sidelined him three weeks ago. Davis hopes to return soon, probably in extended spring training.

"I think I could definitely pitch in the big leagues,'' he said. "I know that probably sounds naive to a lot of people, but I think I can do it.''

The clock is ticking, and Davis knows it. As do the Reds.

"He has to have the attitude he has because this is a tall mountain to climb at age 32,'' said Mack Jenkins, the Reds' minor-league pitching coordinator. "There would be a little more sense to urgency to see what he could do quickly.

"He's got the equipment. He's just got to get out there and refine everything and, hopefully, we can find him some innings soon.''

Said Davis, "I don't want to stop playing. I really don't.''

Gramps has too much unfinished business.