Ike Davis folded his hands, grinned, then leaned into the semi-circle of microphones.
”I’m the guy you want in a big situation,” he said.
A lot has changed since that summer day in June 2008. Davis had just finished his senior year with Arizona State. He batted .389/16 HR/72 RBI in 52 games and his confidence was at an all-time high the day he was introduced as the Mets No. 1 pick in the MLB June Draft (18th overall).
His journey is unlike most. Davis batted a collective .289 with 29 homers in 203 minor league games. Within 18 months he was being shuttled from Buffalo to Queens. This was Ike Davis‘ wish.
By the time he arrived in New York in late April 2010, Davis had already won the hearts and minds of Mets fans. “I Like Ike” banners peppered Citi Field on the eve of his major league debut. Davis rewarded the Mets faithful throughout the season by clouting prodigious home runs and flipping over dugout railings to catch foul pop ups.
Despite another long and losing season, Mets fans were giddy as Spring Training 2011 neared — so was the media. A New York Times article read, Davis showed enough power and fielding ability to own first base going into this season. He can only get better … Davis is a given at first base.
Terry Collins was gushing too, telling the media:
“I think he’s going to be one of the premier first basemen in baseball. He’s got enormous power. As he continues to play, he’ll be more selective. I can see Ike Davis as a No. 4 hitter.”
“I want to hit every ball 800 feet,” Davis told the media.
Uh-huh. Fans nodded like bobbleheads in agreement as “the guy you want in a big situation” pumped sunshine into an otherwise dismal spring in Port St. Lucie.
A Colorado collision, a case of Valley Fever and a season-long slump turned the premiere power hitting first basemen to “hamburger meat.” Something has gone terribly wrong. Ike Davis’ once promising career is spinning out of control.
On that glorious day in June 2008, Ron Davis, Ike’s father, couldn’t have been more proud of his son. When Ike asked for advice on playing in New York, Dad told him:
”He just said it’s the home of the best fans, and it’s a blast because every game is live and die for them. It’s a great environment to grow up playing baseball and play under pressure.”
Ron Davis knows because he did it. He pitched 11 seasons in the majors, including four with the New York Yankees. He was traded three times, cut three times and sold to Japan. Papa Davis had seen the brightest lights (pitching in the 1981 World Series) and dark side of the business. It’s a meat grinder where every player is just “a piece of hamburger meat, just sitting there at the grocery store,” he told the media Tuesday. “And when you’re first put out there in that wrapper, you look real good — bright and red. And the older you get, you start getting tarnished, a little brownish, and people don’t pick you as much.”
But this, no, this is not my son’s fault, Ron Davis explained. No, sir. My son is just fine. This is Sandy Alderson’s fault, and Citi Field’s fault, and the New York media’s fault. “The media was just messed up … The ballpark needs a fresh start … The Mets have really screwed up … It’s saying to my son, ‘Hey, we don’t want you anymore.'”
That is quite an indictment. No one was spared; the Mets general manager, the New York media, Citi Field.
Ike Davis has been given every opportunity to save himself. Last season, as his average dropped, the strikeouts mounted and the boos reigned, Davis was shipped to Triple-A Las Vegas, but not before being given every opportunity to dig himself out.
His swing was dissected. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal wrote: When he [Ike Davis] starts to swing, his hands jerk downward. His hips torque awkwardly. Everything moves and jiggers and contorts. Nothing feels natural. Davis’s swing looks, in a word, ugly. It looks so ugly that there is serious doubt whether he ever will maintain any consistent success without a dramatic mechanical overhaul.
That’s on the outside.
What’s happening to Ike Davis inside?
Like his swing, is his mind jerking and jittering? Playing the game of baseball is hard enough, playing the game in New York is an entirely new experience. As an athlete, you either accept the challenge or you let it eat you alive. Has the relentless booing and lack of confidence the Mets organization consumed Ike Davis?
We will have to wait until April for the answer. It won’t come from his father. It won’t come from Terry Collins or Sandy Alderson. The answer will be delivered the first time Ike Davis gets a 3-1 pitch with runners in scoring position. What he does with that pitch will tell us everything we need know.