Jays didn’t have to call Shane Davis twice
*LHP Shane Davis (Belmont, Ont.) had to have his name called twice when he was selected for the Team Canada roster, is at the Blue Jays extended spring training complex in Dunedin ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
DUNEDIN, Fla. – Shane Davis is from Belmont, Ontario.
Where might that be, you ask?
Well, it is located in the township of Elgin in Southwestern Ontario. The population of Belmont claims to be just under 1,900 people, though that might be a stretch.
What is Belmont known for?
Hopefully someday and if not already, it will be known for Shane Davis.
Davis wasn’t expecting anyone at Toronto Blue Jays extended spring training to know where Belmont is. I shocked the quiet left-hander with the fact that my father’s hunting buddy happens to be from the same place that he was born. I’ve even been to the quiet community of Belmont a number of times.
Before the 24-year-old could get past the fact that he’d even heard the word ‘Belmont’ at the Bobby Mattick Training Complex, I brought up Winter Baseball School. Davis and I both worked with the same off-season training program and instructors when we were in high school. We were both on the same spring break baseball trips to Florida and didn’t realize it until now.
That’s where the similarities end.
“Last June I got drafted,” Davis said. “In college I was a starter and then [the Blue Jays] put me in the bullpen. That was a little bit more of a mental adjustment than anything. I was trying to get the right mentality of, instead of starting the game off with nobody on base and kind of relaxing, it’s, ‘Okay, bases are loaded. Here you go.’
“In the off-season I worked on mechanical things that I wanted to fix and then I came here and they pointed out a couple things. So I’ve been working on that now and it’s starting to come together. It took me about a month to figure it out and I still haven’t figured it out completely, but I’m starting to put it together into games now which is nice.”
His first season with the Toronto organization didn’t go exactly as planned. Davis made 18 relief appearances for the Vancouver Canadians last year, posting a 7.91 ERA in 19 1/3 innings. He walked 17 and struck out 16, but has nowhere to go but up this season.
“It was a struggle,” he said. “More mentally than anything. Physically I was tired, but the move to the bullpen and the month between the draft and the start of the season, I didn’t have a good transition between that and it affected how I pitched. I’m looking to do better this year obviously. I got my feet wet and now it’s time to show what I can do.”
His experience in pro ball was an entirely new one, as Davis certainly showed what he could do throughout his entire collegiate career at Canisius College. The left-hander set school records in wins and complete games, and had the fewest walks per nine innings of any pitcher in school history with at least 100 innings under his belt.
Davis ranked among conference leaders throughout his entire tenure at Canisius. In his rookie season, he became the first pitcher in league history to win MAAC Rookie of the Year and Pitcher of the Year in the same season and led the conference in ERA, wins and complete games. From there he kept rolling, churning out team and league accomplishments for the three years that followed.
Canisius was the perfect home away from home for Davis, since the program is run by Canadian Mike McRae and has boasted a strong Canuck presence on the roster for as long as Coach Mac has been around.
“It was nice because every year I was there, half the team was Canadian,” Davis said. “I knew some of the guys from before and we still keep in contact. Like this fall 26 of us are going to a guy’s cottage so that will be fun.
“I really enjoyed my time there and obviously the experiences in college are helping me here. I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to do this out of high school. I’m more mature now. It was an unbelievable experience playing for Coach McRae. I enjoyed it.”
Davis credits some of his fun and his success on the diamond at Canisius to hockey. As tough as it has been to give up on playing Canada’s favourite pastime, the pitcher played as much as he could for as long as he could.
“Actually in-season in college I would probably play two times a week,” Davis said. “I told McRae I was going to do it in the off-season but I don’t think he knew I was doing it during the season. It was the best conditioning I’ve ever had.
“Last spring I felt unbelievable and it was because I would go from hockey to baseball practice and my legs felt great and were in good condition. Unfortunately I can’t do that anymore but it was fun while it lasted.”
Davis would do his best to convince his teammates to drive to local arenas on off-days, or whenever they had an open slot of time, to take the ice.
“It was three dollars for an hour and 20 minutes, so I took full advantage of that one,” he said. “There were a couple of other guys that went like Drew Pettit, Tim Seil, who’s from Rochester, N.Y. and Josh Marshall from Saskatchewan, and he would come last year.
“I was kind of the main ringleader. If nobody went, I was going on my own. I really didn’t care if anyone was coming with me; I was playing.”
In addition to his hockey conditioning in the off-season, Davis also spends time during the winter taking on a coaching role.
The time he spent at the Winter Baseball School with owner and director Don Martin and his son Kirk, assistant director of WBS and also director of Cardinal Sports Management, assisted the lefty, and he would like to help pass his experience on.
In March, Davis’ schedule allowed him enough time to take the spring break trip with WBS once again, this time as a coach. Davis helped coach the boys’ team that he was on when he was younger as they took on American high school teams in Vero Beach.
“I went through that program and it helped me, so why not try to help others, especially now that I’m with the Jays,” Davis said. “Especially being in Ontario, it helps. It’s not like I’m with the San Francisco Giants and nobody knows about it.
“I think it’s nice that I can help on some things that I’ve learned that maybe Kirk hasn’t learned, or that maybe the other instructors haven’t learned, whether it was through college or just coming here [to the Jays organization].”
The young pitcher has learned a lot throughout his baseball career. Though the elder Martin helped him hone his pitches at a young age, Davis thinks the most important thing he took from him is something that helps him both on and off the field.
“A big thing with Don is your character,” Davis said. “He doesn’t like you messing around. You can have fun but when you’re playing it’s pretty serious. I think that’s one of the main things I took from him.”
Davis learned quickly that Don Martin always takes everything seriously, and as much as it helped him, it was a fact that the Toronto farmhand had to adjust to at first.
“I remember my first pitching lesson was with Don,” he said. “We were in Ingersoll and he was teaching me how to throw a curveball or something. He wanted it on top of the plate and I wouldn’t put it on top of the plate. He said, ‘If this next one doesn’t hit the plate, you’re running and doing burpees,’ and I thought he was kind of joking. Well, I didn’t put it on the plate and he wasn’t joking.
“But I think I started with him when I was 14 and went probably until I was 17 or so. During that time, I also helped run camps with Don. We would go to Brantford and Ancaster and everywhere.”
Coming from Belmont and WBS and playing for the London Tecumsehs, Davis followed a different path than most players in Southwestern Ontario to get to college, Team Canada and the minor leagues. His route was so different that he almost didn’t try out for the national team, thinking that he had no shot.
“When we won the gold medal in Alberta [with Team Ontario at the Canada Cup],” he said of his favourite moment in baseball so far. “That was pretty cool and then I made the Team Canada roster out of that tournament.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all. I wasn’t even expecting to make Team Ontario. I wasn’t going to go to the tryout. My mom made me. Then I got there and I was thinking, ‘I’m with the London Tecumsehs and here are all these [Ontario Blue Jay] players,’ and I was the only one from my team. I didn’t think I was going to make that; I made that.
“Then I didn’t think I was going to, I wasn’t even listening when they were announcing the roster [for Team Canada] and they said, ‘Shane Davis,’ and I didn’t move. They said, ‘Shane Davis,’ again and the guy next to me said, ‘You should probably go up there now, they’ve called you twice.’
“So that was pretty cool, that period. And then obviously getting drafted by the Jays is pretty special.”