Morehead State to the Major Leagues: Taylor Davis is a Success Story
Taylor Davis is having a September almost too good to be true. He even has folks humming "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."
That's the title of the Frankie Valli song that is set to a video of Davis that was produced a couple of weeks ago by baseball's Class AAA Iowa Cubs.
Davis, a former Morehead State standout, is featured in a series of "stare downs" with the TV and web cameras present at Iowa games this season. In the first week after release, the video had been viewed about 5 million times on Facebook.
Then, on Sept. 5, Davis received a bigger thrill.
He was promoted to the Chicago Cubs, thus becoming MSU's first position player in the Major Leagues since second baseman Denny Doyle wound up an eight-year career in 1977.
Many of Davis' former Eagles teammates texted congratulations, as did the coaches who recruited him to campus - Jay Sorg and assistant Jason Neal.
With expanded rosters in September, Davis finds himself one of five catchers on Chicago's roster, and in the midst of a tight race in the National League's Central Division.
So most of his playing time remains on Facebook.
Iowa's Kris Negron dabbled in doing "the stare" last year, and 2017 turned out to be Davis' turn.
"It started as a joke, but now that's gotten me more popular than getting called up did," Davis said Tuesday during an on-field interview in his new baseball home, Chicago's Wrigley Field. "That's been a fun ride, too. That happened the same week (as being promoted), so it's been a crazy few days."
Davis' path to the Major Leagues is a testament to perseverance. Through seven minor-league seasons, he never doubted himself.
"I knew (if) I had a jersey on, I had a chance," he said. "And that's the thing - I was going to go out here and be the best teammate I could be and play as hard as I could, and that was what was important to me."
As a senior at Jupiter (Fla.) High School, he hit .500 and put together a school-record 25-game hitting streak. The Florida Marlins called his name in the 49th round of the 2008 draft. Davis opted for Morehead, though, thanks to Sorg and Neal.
Davis started all 45 games as a freshman, batting .315, with 12 homers and 40 RBI. In 2010, his numbers included a .350 average, 11 homers and 57 RBI. And, in his junior year of 2011, Davis earned first team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors. He hit .414, with 17 homers, 13 doubles and 48 RBI.
He went undrafted that year, but was signed to a free-agent contract by the Cubs.
Before Iowa came minor-league stops in Arizona, Peoria, Daytona, Tennessee and Eugene, Ore., plus winter ball in the Dominican Republic. All told, over seven minor-league seasons and 461 games, Davis compiled a .284 average, 26 homers and 221 RBI.
This year, he led Iowa with a .297 average and 62 RBI, adding six homers over 102 games.
"It's been a heck of a ride," Davis said. "There's been some tough years, for sure, but it's been a lot of fun. I think it's made it worth it. ... Having to go through what I did and being able to say that I made it, and to make it with this team, with the Chicago Cubs, is really special."
Cubs shortstop Mike Freeman, who was promoted from Iowa on Sept. 1, says he has much respect for Davis.
"I was a (college) senior-sign and I was drafted, and I knew the odds were against me," Freeman said. "But for him to go undrafted and kind of work his way up to Triple-A and put up the numbers he's had, he just continues to get better. His catching, his framing. A lot of guys talk about how well he receives the ball, and that goes a long way in the clubhouse and handling the pitching staff.
"So that's a testament to the way he's continued to improve. A lot of guys that he probably played with, they were more talented, but probably back home watching him on TV. Which is a pretty cool thing for him to experience. It's a lot of validation for all the hours that he spent in the minor leagues and the bus rides and all the stuff you hear about, as cliched as it is. But he certainly deserves to be here."
Davis got a heads up a few days before actually getting called up by the Cubs. His first phone call went to his wife, Amberleigh (maiden name Slone, and MSU's Student of the Year in 2011).
When Davis actually received THE call, he was out having pizza with Iowa roommate Chris Dominguez, the former University of Louisville star.
Davis joined the big club in Pittsburgh. Amberleigh flew in from Louisville. Parents Matt and Julia Davis were on hand. So was Neal, the former MSU assistant coach.
A 5-foot-10, 200-pounder who bats and throws right, Davis finally made his Major League debut on Sept. 8, in Wrigley, pinch-hitting for John Lackey. Milwaukee's Josh Hader struck Davis out on four pitches.
A day later, Davis again pinch-hit, grounding out to shortstop.
"I was actually more nervous the second at-bat, I think," Davis said. "Hearing 41,000 (fans) cheer and stand up, I don't think anyone can be ready for that. So that was really cool. But, after that, it was a normal at-bat."
Stepping inside Wrigley and its new state-of-the-art clubhouse for the first time was enough to spike Davis' emotions.
"Just the history. Knowing that Babe Ruth and Sammy Sosa and Mark Grace - I mean, the names go on and on - but these crazy names," he said. "Ryne Sandberg. Ryan Dempster. And to be out here on this same field is insane. It's crazy! And that clubhouse in unbelievable."
Davis' locker stall is lodged between starting pitchers John Lackey and Jake Arrieta. Freeman is on the other side of Arrieta.
"He's talkative," Freeman said of Davis. "When he's comfortable - like in the Iowa clubhouse - he's one of the more respected guys in the clubhouse. I guess I would classify him as a baseball rat. Anyone that knows him and knows anything about him, he loves the game and he knows the game. And he's passionate about how he plays the game."
One big difference in the big leagues, Davis says, includes resources. Another is personnel. He tries to learn from both.
"The scouting reports are all different up here," he said. "You've got a lot more details. And the way these guys play the game and go about their business, it's fun to watch. It's interesting, and these guys are the best in the world at what they do. It's so fun to be around this group of guys."
While working his way through the minors, Davis returned to MSU and earned his degree in business management.
"I loved my time at Morehead," Davis said. "Everything that happened there was fantastic. ... Everything that I did there playing-wise. The friends I made. Obviously, I met my wife. The nights spent with the guys. I came from a city on the beach. To go from that to Morehead, Ky., was a complete change for me. So it was a lot of fun."
When Amberleigh, a Paintsville native, opted to pursue a Master's degree at the University of Louisville, that's where the young married couple moved. They still call Louisville home today, and Taylor plans to help run a winter camp there at his usual off-season training site, Legends Sports Academy.
Meanwhile, he will do whatever he can to help the Cubs repeat as World Series champions. And, he'll still be doing "The Stare."
"People want it," Davis said. "It's kind of my persona now. As long as it doesn't affect the play, I think having fun is important."