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Pitching In : Coaching From the Stands, Davis Keeps Little Leaguers Focused

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On name alone and because of his baseball work, this Mark Davis is often mistaken for that other one, the former Cy Young Award winner with the San Diego Padres.

But for the pitchers on the Thousand Oaks team at the Little League Junior World Series for 13-year-olds in Taylor, Mich., there’s no doubt which of the two is better known or appreciated.

“He is a great pitching coach,” said Kevin Howard, the team’s ace right-hander. “He can take the little things I’m doing wrong and help me correct them. He is probably the best pitching coach I’ve had.”

Davis is not only the team’s pitching coach, but also somewhat of an oddity by youth baseball standards.

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He has been with the team since it started competing last month in qualifying tournaments and is perhaps the only coach at the World Series who has been paid by parents for his services.

And although he watches the games from the bleachers or behind outfield fences because Little League rules allow only the team manager and one coach on the field, his presence anywhere near the action sometimes is enough to spark the pitchers.

“He keeps the guys mentally focused,” said Ed Kitchen, the team manager. “He tells them to go after the hitters and to let whatever happens happen. . . . He is a tremendous help.”

For Davis, traveling with the team is a new experience. A former pitcher at El Camino Real High and College of the Canyons who played in the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals minor league systems in the early ‘80s, Davis has made a living by running baseball camps and teaching privately for several years.

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Most of his students play in Valley-area youth leagues, so when Thousand Oaks advanced last season to the Little League Western Regional for 11- and 12-year-olds, some parents of players hired Davis to work with the pitchers.

That team was eliminated in the semifinals after beating eventual World Series champion, Long Beach, 16-1, in the second round, but the foundation had been laid.

“The parents came to me after last season and said, ‘Next year, we are going all the way and you are going with us,’ ” said Davis, who doesn’t coach a team in the league. “This is a special situation and I enjoy doing this.”

All of the World Series expenses for Davis and his wife Christina are being financed by Dean Strauser and Bill Morrow, the fathers of team members Chris Strauser and Zeke Morrow. Dean Strauser says Davis is an integral part of the squad.

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“I think he’s a big part of the reason we are where we are today,” said Strauser, a masonry contractor. “He relates to these kids like he is one of them.”

Davis said the money and expenses he receives are less than what he would earn through his coaching services, but he hardly minds.

Eleven of the 14 players on last year’s team are playing in Michigan.

They pledged to win the title in the higher division this year, and Davis wants to see the job completed.

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“This is like a family,” Davis said. “I like the kids and they like me.”

And they never confuse him with that other guy by the same name. But even if they did, Davis said, his wife would give them her standard reply.

“When they ask me if I’m that Mark Davis, she says ‘No. We don’t have $18 million,’ ” Davis said, laughing.


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