JERRY DAVIS : Weighing His Future With Padres : After Minor Detour, He Tries to Keep Job
Early every morning, Padre players march single file into a makeshift weight room at their hotel. Not everyone lifts a finger, though.
“Me lift weights?” Kurt Bevacqua said. “Never.”
Instead, Bevacqua -- and most of the other guys -- waltz in there to pick up their meal money.
“Another day, another $55,” Dave Dravecky was saying as he left.
But that weight room is outfielder Jerry Davis’ meal ticket out of the minor leagues. On Jan. 18, he was running a wind sprint when he suddenly wound up on his rear end. His left knee had given way. The Padres sent him to a doctor and the doctor ordered arthroscopic surgery. There was ligament and cartilage damage.
Oh, that was a big help. Davis would’ve been battling for a roster spot even before the injury, and now he’d have to battle just to make it to spring training on time, just five weeks later. Minor leagues here we come? He hoped not. Last year, he had made the team but was sent down late in the season, and he just hated it.
So, when he was hurt, it was either the weight room or they’d be making room for him again at Triple-A.
“I got a taste of something good last year, and a taste of disappointment, too,” Davis said Wednesday after his morning workout in that weight room. “When they sent me to (Las) Vegas last year, it really made me appreciate the major leagues. Before, I was really upset that I didn’t get playing time, but once I got sent down, it didn’t matter if I played or not once I got back. I would just be happy to be there again.
“Triple-A is nowhere to play ball. I can’t imagine starting this season in Vegas.”
But he might. He and Bobby Brown and John Kruk and Bobby Clark and Rusty Tillman are fighting for the last two roster spots, and Manager Steve Boros said it likely will come down to Davis, Brown and Kruk.
A loophole: Brown’s contract is guaranteed.
“That might give Brown the inside track,” Boros said.
Which makes Davis’ insides tremble. Why can’t anything be easy? Why can’t they leave him alone?
When he was drafted in the sixth round of the 1980 June free-agent draft, the Padres didn’t think much of him.
“They offered me weak money,” he said. “I was no bonus baby.”
When he went out to play his regular position, third base, in A-ball, they said: “Kid, we think you’ll be better off in the outfield.” So he trotted out to the outfield.
When he hit .353 with 14 homers the next year in Double-A, he figured it was a pretty good move.
But when they told him to change his stroke and be a leadoff hitter at Triple-A, he didn’t think that was a very good move. But, again, he did what they said.
“Because I wanted to make the major league ballclub,” Davis said. “I did everything they wanted.”
He even listened to Dick Williams. Early last season, when he’d finally made the Padres, he pulled the ball to left field. Williams talked to him.
Davis recreated the conversation: “Dick told me, verbatim, that I’d made the club hitting the ball to right field, behind the runners. He said I better keep doing that if I wanted to stay.”
So he did.
But the Padres sent him down to get more playing time. They did bring him back up in September, and his average was .286, and he had a chance to hit over .300, but Williams never put him in during the final games of the year.
So he went home and worked on his body.
“I was in the best shape of my life,” he said.
And then his knee said sayonara.
“I was scared,” he said. “I’d never been to a hospital other than to visit. I’d never been in a room with my name on it, and, suddenly, I was the star of the show. My own room! It scared me a lot.
“You know, right before I injured it, they’d given me part of a major league contract and part of a minor league contract. That meant if I made the team, I made this much, and if I didn’t make it, I made less. It stinks. I thought I’d earned my way on the ballclub last year, but, apparently, I didn’t. Jack (McKeon, the general manager) put me in a situation where I had to earn it. And when I got hurt, it was imperative that I come in healthy.
“Dick Dent (the trainer) worked to get me ready by April, but I worked to get ready by late February. I worked to be ready five weeks before they thought I would. They thought it’d be until opening day.”
He suited up for the first day of spring training.
Dent: “Yeah, it was a remarkable recovery.”
Davis: “They kept telling me not to rush it. Even Jack (McKeon) said: ‘Don’t rush it.’ But I’d do things on my own. I’d jog. I’d ride a bike at home. I’d run the hills where I live in San Carlos. They would’ve told me to stop had they known.
“I’m out of options, you know. If the Padres want to send me down, I have to clear waivers. And I don’t want to clear waivers because I’m damaged goods. I want to clear because no one could use me at that time. I want to be healthy.”
He didn’t make it back all on his own. Two people helped him the most:
His future wife.
He was engaged to Helen this winter. She is from Zimbabwe Africa, and was visiting her sister in Los Angeles last summer when they met.
“We’ve been together ever since,” Davis said.
Now, she lives full time in California.
“During the surgery, she was tremendous,” he said. “Without her, I’d have been lost. My family is from the East, and I was out West. She was the only family. She brought me meals, drove me everywhere. I’d lie in bed, and she’d bring me ice to pack on the knee, and she cooked and answered the phone. It sounds like easy things, but when you can’t get out of bed . . . “
Dad (his name is Charles) helped Davis spiritually. Dad, besides working for U.S. Steel in Trenton, N.J., is a preacher.
“He’s the pastor of his own church,” Davis said. “He has supported our family and other people’s families. He’s always there. Talk about patience? I’ve never seen anyone with more. He fixes other people’s heaters, cars. He’s a pastor for the community.”
When Davis hurt the knee, he called him.
“He told me to work hard, as always,” Davis said. “He said God helps those who help themselves.”
Davis helped himself into the weight room.
Today, he’s playing.
“Jerry’s a great guy,” Padre batting coach Deacon Jones said. “He doesn’t complain. Certain guys turn up every year in the major leagues like a bad pimple, and Jerry Davis is gonna be one of them. He’s a guy who has to be reckoned with.”
Current spring training batting average: .286.
“Well, I’m not completely healthy,” he said. “When I get up out of bed in the morning or if I’m not careful about the way I walk, there is pain. See, there are cells in the knee that are still growing. When the doctor went in there, they had to grow again. They start out at the baby stage, then go to the teen-age stage.
“See, right now, my cells are in their early teens. No, they’re about 18 or 19 now. . . . So I could go down again today. I’m not 100%. I’m not taking out second basemen or sliding a lot. But I can hit and run and throw. I just can’t do anything aggressive. Well, I guess I can. I’ll take on a wall on a fly ball if I have to.
“But I did all I could do. I have no regrets. No one in this organization or even in this world can ever say Jerry Davis is not a hard worker.”
On Wednesday, while he was working to hit a breaking ball, he twisted the knee slightly. He limped around. And when he got back to the hotel, you know where he hobbled . . .
To the weight room.