Rookie Davis well-suited to Mets

Ike Davis has done nothing but deliver since the Mets called him up to play first base.
Ike Davis has done nothing but deliver since the Mets called him up to play first base.
Posted: April 30, 2010

NEW YORK - Ike Davis was talking earlier this week about playing baseball in New York when an old cardboard box, crudely but securely wrapped, was dropped near his Citi Field locker.

The rookie's eyes were drawn away from the interviewer and to the delivery, his words trailed off and, suddenly, as if he were a starving man trying to disgorge a Big Mac from its container, he tore into the package.

"Let's see what this is," the Mets' new first baseman said as the sound of peeled strapping tape echoed through the clubhouse. "Hopefully, it's not shoes. I don't need any more shoes. Whoo-hoo! It's my suit. Thank God. That's huge. I was going to have to buy one [for his first road trip]. Now I've got it. It was in my car in Buffalo, and they sent it. I'm pretty excited about it. Whoo-hoo!"

While Davis, 23, reacted like a wide-eyed kid at Christmas to the appearance of his badly wrinkled blue suit, the Mets and their fans have responded similarly to the recent arrival of this 6-foot-4, 215-pound surprise package.

When they open a three-game weekend series with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Friday, the Mets can trace the streak that catapulted them into first place to April 19, the day Davis shuffled in from Buffalo to join a 4-8 last-place team.

Since then, with their energetic first baseman hitting .365 and captivating the Big Apple to its core, the Mets have won nine of 10 - all at home - revived a flagging season, likely saved manager Jerry Manuel's job and leapfrogged the rest of the NL East.

"It's all been pretty cool," said Davis. "This is where everyone dreams about. It's the only place you want to be. I think it would be hard to go back to the minors after this."

That's not likely to happen anytime soon, not as long as the Legend of Ike Davis is still under construction here.

No place creates legends as easily or as effectively as New York. And Davis' resume hasn't hurt the hype.

He's the son of a former Yankee (reliever Ron Davis). He broke Arizona State records set by another of New York's beloved lefthanded sluggers (Reggie Jackson). His mother, like a large chunk of the club's fan base, is Jewish. He's likable, accessible, and as he has displayed on several occasions, has a dramatic flair.

Davis singled in his first big-league at-bat. Two nights later, he cartwheeled into the home dugout after a spectacular grab of a foul pop-up. And two nights after that, he belted his first home run, a 450-foot bomb to a previously unreached corner of vast Citi Field.

All that, in typical New York fashion, has overheated the expectations that began to percolate when the Mets made the Sun Devils product the No. 18 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Davis' father inadvertently contributed to the hype, saying his son reminded him of former Met John Olerud, the 1993 American League batting champion with Toronto. Manuel then suggested the youngster's swing - a waggling bat that quickly descends into the hitting zone - brought to mind Hall of Famer Willie Stargell. And broadcaster Ralph Kiner went further, comparing Davis' swing to that of Ted Williams.

For a player who has yet to play anywhere but Citi Field, the comparisons clearly embarrassed him.

"I try to stay away from what people think about me," he said, "because that really doesn't help you play well, doesn't make you a better person."

But Friday night, before and during his first road game, he will be watching Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. And later he will observe the other NL stars who play his position: Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Derrick Lee.

"I'm looking forward to playing against them and maybe just picking up some things," he said. "Meeting people you idolized for a long time is really cool."

Not surprisingly, New York's voracious media like Ike - Isaac Benjamin, actually. His smiling photo already has filled the New York Daily News' back page. And his early accomplishments have lured daily streams of sportswriters to his locker, where Davis answers endless questions with thoughtfulness and affability, virtues not often associated with baseball players.

So far, the attention has not appeared to faze him. He strides the spacious Mets clubhouse with just the right mix of hubris and humility, perhaps, his manager said, because he grew up around the game and knows the rules for rookies.

"The kid has adjusted very well on the field and off," said Manuel. "He definitely knows how to handle himself, how to fit in around here."

Davis credited the media training he got in the Mets' minor-league system with easing the stress of his enormous jump from Buffalo, where he was hitting .364 with two homers and four RBIs, to the world's hotbed of hype.

Part of a generation of ballplayers trained to deal with the media - especially essential in New York, where the sporting mentality is shaped by the tabloids' back pages - Davis said he'd been prepared for tough questions as well as tough pitches.

"The Mets did a good job at that, letting you know what to expect," he said. "They start you off early with media training. It helps. Your first day here, it's like a scene from Bull Durham. There are all these reporters and questions. But you've got an idea about what you can say and what you can't say.

"For someone who's never been told that, they might say some things they might regret later on, you know? They know what's appropriate to talk to the media about. There's things you shouldn't say to them. Personal life is personal life."

Born in Minnesota, raised in Arizona, Davis played baseball year-round. As a high schooler, he led Scottsdale's Chaparral High to three state championships.

"He worked tremendously hard," said Jerry Dawson, his Chaparral coach. "I always tell the story about the time we were winning, 8-0, and he was up with nobody on base. He called time and came and talked to me. He asked me to put on a hit-and-run.

"I said, 'Ike, there's nobody on base and we're up, 8-0!' But he said he'd been thinking too much at the plate and that it might be better if he knew he had to swing. That's the kind of kid he is."

He then became a superstar at nearby Arizona State, where he hit .353 for his career and was a two-time all-American before the Mets made him their first pick two years ago.

Sent immediately to single-A Brooklyn, Davis' first stop in New York wasn't nearly so successful. He hit just .256 and failed to homer in any of his 58 games as a Cyclone. Mets critics were sure the club had blown another No. 1 pick.

"It was just a bad month and a half, really," he said. "I started hitting the ball better at the end of that year. But it was first time I ever swung wood full time. I was learning how to play pro ball. I had never played every day in my life. That's totally different. . . . You have to learn to conserve your energy. In college, you just left it all out on the field every game. In pro ball, you do that and you'll wear out because you play every single day. It's tough adjusting."

But he did. In 2009, spraying the ball to all fields, he hit .289 with seven homers for Class-A Port St. Lucie and .309 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs in half a season at double-A Binghamton.

This spring, as the tabloid clamor grew louder, he impressed Manuel and his teammates with several long home runs and a superb glove.

"People talk about his hitting," said Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, "but he is one of the best defensive first basemen you will ever see for a player his age."

Opting for a platoon of Fernando Tatis and newly acquired Mike Jacobs at first, the Mets dispatched Davis to Buffalo. After their 4-8 start, however, Jacobs was designated for assignment and Davis was called up.

"This has been great," said Davis. "It's been intense but great. I've only been playing major-league baseball for a week now, but every day you learn something new."

Like this weekend, for example. New York's newest darling is likely to be booed for a first time as a big-leaguer.

"It should be fun," he said of the trip to Philadelphia. "I've gotten heckled everywhere I go. People didn't used to like Arizona State.

"But just being on a road trip is going to be fun. I'm excited about that. I hear road trips are like team bonding."

And now he's got a suit to wear.

Whoo-hoo!


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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