He turned twenty nine yesterday, and as he enters his last year of his twenties, Ike Davis seems to have the perspective that comes with a six year Major League career, and the introspection of a man who has spent most of it trying to heal his body. After a misdiagnosed broken ankle in 2011 cost him a fair amount of his athleticism, he worked his way back, only to miss significant time with a rare virus. In 2012, his approach seemed to shift: with less mobility and quickness, he appeared to start swinging for the fences.
It worked for awhile. He hit 32 home runs that year, despite only managing a .227 batting average and a .308 on-base percentage. Then the league adjusted.
After surgery last August to repair a torn labrum, Davis signed a minor-league deal with Texas in the off-season in hopes of either making the team, or if no opportunity arose, at least proving that he could still play at a Major League level.
Alas, there has been a large right-knee-shaped monkey wrench thrown into those plans.
"I don't know... I haven't played on my hip for awhile, y'know..." he says in a tone that can be best described as both honest about the injury, but undeterred by the setbacks. "And now with this thing..." This thing. He motions to his knee as if it were a flat tire. "Obviously, this thing is going to be fine as soon as it heals, but playing every day? Nine innings on my hip? I don't know how that's going to go."
It was already going to be an uphill battle for Davis this year. After the power surge in 2012, he has struggled, never again hitting more than 11 home runs in a season. For a guy who strikes out nearly 26% of the time, if the power isn't there, you eventually find yourself an ex-Met. Then an ex-Pirate. Ex-Athletic. Eventually, you find yourself answering questions about This Thing on the day when the assistant General Manager for your new team admitted that you were no longer a consideration for the Opening Day roster.
Davis had no delusions tthat it was going to be easy this year. Life has made sure to teach him this lesson. Repeatedly. Mitch Moreland has a secure job at first base. Prince Fielder can also play there. So can Ryan Rua, Pedro Ciriaco and Justin Ruggiano. Even Hanser Alberto has logged time there this Spring. But coming into Surprise, the bench situation was even more enigmatic than it is now, with less than two weeks to Opening Day. It's not like there was no hope at all, even with long odds.
"Coming in, I knew that I was going to have to prove that I'm healthy, and they're not going to let you prove you're healthy in the big leagues, especially when you're not even on the 40-man, so going down (to Round Rock) is kind of what I expected anyway, unless I came out in Spring Training and played every day (with) no side effects and was hitting the crap out of the ball. That would be a different story, but," he pauses for reflection. "It was really terrible timing with the knee injury, because it had JUST started to feel like 'oh, dude. I'm going to be able to play!'"
I wondered what the mindset was when a longtime Major Leaguer has to go to AAA? Does it feel like a rehab assignment?
"You could say yeah, but... it's not really, because in a rehab assignment, it doesn't really matter what you do, so... no, I gotta go play and prove that I'm worthy of playing in the big leagues. I just gotta get healthy and get right; play like myself. You could look at it as a rehab assigment, but I think that would discredit a lot of the good AAA players."
Good. That seems like a mindset that will serve him well. I asked him if it's hard to stay positive.
"You know..." another pause for reflection "I've been injured for so long now, I think I have a pretty good mindset. Now, when it happened, was I a little bummed out? Of course. It was the worst timing of all time, going to a new team, and- thank God I've played for Banny before (in Pittsburgh in 2014), so he's seen me actually play."
Genuine positivity can be a rare trait. Too often, it veers into the realm of "Everything Is Fine, Nothing to See Here!" or fall away completely into a dismal realization that your hopes have been irreparably dashed. Davis seems to have found a middle road - maintaining confidence in his abilities, but not dismissing the difficulties and frustrations.
"The biggest thing that stung about this Spring Training was not being able to show what I can do, but if I go down there and play like I usually do, I'll be fine..."
One last pause, one last unsaid This Thing.
"...eventually, I'll be back in the big leagues."