Ike Davis: ready to take the field

Ike Davis always believed he would be a professional athlete. He was an athletic child and participated in all sports. “I really enjoyed playing basketball, but you have to be really tall. I am tall – just not in a basketball sense,” says Ike. “I thought the farthest a sport could really take me would be baseball.”

Ike was always in the top level of every baseball league he played in growing up. “I never hit a point where I wasn’t good enough, where I couldn’t move up and make the teams,” he says. “I also worked really hard and gave a lot of effort in the sports I was playing. I probably put in a lot more time than a lot of people did at that age.”

He also had a tough coach: his father, Ron Davis, who happened to be a professional baseball player from 1978 to 1988. He started with the New York Yankees and ended with the San Francisco Giants, playing with the Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in between. Ron coached Ike from age 6 to16. According to Ike, his father never showed any favoritism on the field. “He was hard on me, just like [he was with] every kid on the team,” says Ike. “It made it easier for other parents to let their kid get yelled at…because they saw that I wasn’t treated any different. It had a positive effect on me.”

Ike admits that one of his favorite things about his dad is his “passion for baseball and for helping kids grow up to be men.” He also jokes that even though his friends got upset with his father when they were reprimanded on the baseball field, it has helped them in their careers and dealing with difficult bosses. A friend told Ike that his boss recently yelled at him. When a co-worker commented on how it didn’t seem to affect him, he replied, “Nothing compares to Coach Davis from Little League who used to get all over me!”

Moving up through the ranks

After his Little League career, Ike played four years of high school varsity baseball under Coach Jerry Dawson at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale. After three state championships, colleges began to notice. He started getting letters during his sophomore year in high school. “I used to save them all,” says Ike, adding that his mom might still have them. He knew some schools might be a challenge to get into academically, but he was encouraged by so many opportunities for places to play baseball.

Ike was voted Class 4A Player of the Year after his sophomore season, then drafted in the 19th round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays while still in high school. “I turned that down because I thought that I could get an education, possibly get drafted higher and have a better opportunity in pro ball in three years,” he says.

Ike set his sights on two universities: LSU in Austin, Texas or Arizona State University. LSU was his number one pick growing up. His father is from Texas and he had fond memories of visiting his grandparents and hunting and fishing there. But a visit to LSU made him realize that it wasn’t the best fit. Without even intending to negotiate a scholarship, he called and told then-Coach Pat Murphy that he wanted to come to ASU, where he ended up playing for three years.

He was named Pac-10 Player of the Year his freshman year at ASU but hurt his wrist the next year, when his team went to Omaha for the College World Series.

Unfortunately, they were unexpectedly eliminated after three games.

Ike’s junior year was going well, until he tore an intercostal muscle in his ribs and was out for more than a month. “I still had a really good year,” says Ike. “I was first team All-American that year and we had one of the best teams in the country.” Then a real upset: The team lost to Fresno State, the last team to qualify for the tournament. “They [Fresno State] were the biggest underdog of any college sport,” Ike says. “It was heartbreaking loss then; but looking back on it, it’s a really cool story.”

A long and painful string of injuries

Ike’s college career ended when he was drafted in the first round as the overall agent pick by the New York Mets. He had pitched and hit in high school and college, but the Mets drafted him as a first baseman. With the exception of a “little bit of outfield with [amateur baseball] Team USA,” Ike hasn’t played any other position since. Ike played on three Team USAs: two in high school and one as a professional. (Baseball is not currently an Olympic sport but will return in 2020 at the Tokyo summer games.)

Ike’s first year in the big leagues was with the Mets in 2010. “Pro ball is completely different from growing up playing baseball – it’s a career,” says Ike, adding that they play 10 hours a day, every day, for nine months of the year. This includes bus travel, night games, getting in late and having to play the next day.

“Minor league is really tough travel-wise; big league is a little easier,” says Ike. “Big league games are a lot more stressful on your mind – you have to always be locked in, can’t mess up one pitch, can’t take a play off because it could win or lose a game. If you let your mind slip a little bit…, that’s not acceptable at that high level,” Ike says of the pressure of the game.

In April 2014, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who made it to the playoffs and played in the historic wildcard game against the San Francisco Giants where Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw a game shutout with 10 strikeouts. The Giants won 8-0.

Ike played one season with the Pirates before he was traded to the Oakland Athletics. After just a couple of months, he tore his left quad muscle. He missed six weeks and tried to come back, but something just wasn’t right. An MRI revealed a tear in his labrum (the cartilage around the hip socket), a problem that could have stemmed from overcompensating for the injured quad. He underwent 6½-hour surgery on his hip in August 2015 and wasn’t able to walk without crutches for almost four months. He had rehabilitation six days a week. It takes about a year to fully recover from this type of surgery.

Oakland released him after his surgery because of doubts in his ability to play. The Texas Rangers signed him to a minor league contract in 2016 and he went to spring training in Surprise. “I was starting to feel like I could play again,” says Ike. But during his first start in big league spring training, he tore a lateral collateral ligament, or LCL, in his knee and missed all of spring training, along with the first month of the season.

Team Israel calling

Ike got a break when he signed with the New York Yankees to play first base while Mark Teixeira recovered from torn knee cartilage – but that was short-lived. After just two weeks, Mark returned and the Yankees sent Ike to its Triple-A affiliate team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders based in Moosic, Pennsylvania, where he played out the season and was released in mid-August 2016.

When Ike returned home, he received an interesting call from Team Israel, the national baseball team. “They called and asked me if I’d like to play for them and help them qualify,” he says. “I said sure, so I went to Brooklyn and we qualified for the World Baseball Classic.”

The timing was perfect. The qualifying game for the Israeli team was in September; if Ike had been playing with a major league team then, he would not have finished the season until October. “I couldn’t have done it otherwise,” he says.

Ike traveled to Israel this past January. “Tel Aviv is a really fun place…and Jerusalem was so beautiful,” he says. “It was really great to see the places from all the stories you’ve heard your whole life, in every religion, in person. It was a surreal experience.”

Ike’s mother is Jewish; his father is not. Though not necessarily raised as religious, he grew up in a home where he experienced the Jewish culture and religion through his mother’s side of the family, especially during the holidays. His first visit to Israel “gave me a better perspective of the Jewish culture – how it was formed, …seeing where our families came from and all the journeys the Jewish people have gone through and dealt with and the obstacles and struggles.” He also notes learning how Israel started, “how unique and crazy that whole story is,” how Israel can now finally feel safe with its own army. He left with a deeper appreciation for the country.

Living two lives

Baseball has taken Ike around the world: Taiwan, Germany, Italy, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Alaska, Cape Cod, the Midwest and all the major cities on the east and west coasts. But when he’s done with baseball, he may just end up where he started.

“I really do like Arizona,” he says. “I grew up here – it’s home. I went through preschool all the way to college [here],” though he has not spent a summer in Arizona since he was a kid because he was always traveling for baseball. His parents, who live in Arizona, are divorced but have both remarried.
“I don’t know what my future holds, …in life after baseball or what kind of job I will have to get,” says Ike. “Hopefully, I’ll play for another seven or eight years. But if that doesn’t happen, who knows?”

At ASU, he studied education and sociology and considered being a PE teacher or a coach. He also has a passion for history. Lately, his interests have leaned toward finance and real estate. “I have owned three residences and enjoyed the experience of buying and selling,” says Ike. “It’s interesting, new and unique, because homes are special. It’s a gamble and you get to go back and forth – it’s exciting and fun.” He currently owns a home in Arcadia, which he calls “one of the most unique areas in Phoenix.”

Whether it’s real estate or coaching, Ike realizes that he will have to reinvent himself at some point. He notes that athletes live two lives: “No matter how good you are – you can make a lot of money playing professional sports – when you’re done [between ages] 35 and 38, do you just retire for 40 years? I feel like no matter how much money you make, every athlete has to go through a life change, a transitional stage in their life.” He stresses that it’s especially harder for athletes without much higher education. “We have a skill set, but we have never been in an office or work environment that is close to what baseball is,” says Ike. “Baseball’s office is a locker room and a field. Going from that to an office and computer is a lot different. Most of us don’t have that experience.”

Charity work – and giving 100%

What he does have experience with is charity work. As a major league player, he participated in both the Miracle League and Special Olympics. His charity work hit close to home when a friend with whom he had played ball since he was 12, Mike Leo, passed away at age 22 from Ewing’s sarcoma. “I spent a lot of time with him [when he was] going through chemo. I was at hospice the day he passed away. It was a tough moment in my life, and for everyone around him, because he was such a great person,” says Ike.

That experience prompted Ike to start the Ike Davis Foundation. When he was with the Mets, he hosted charity events and made appearances, raising money for his foundation. The money he raised helped fund the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative and Solving Kids’ Cancer, assisting families affected by cancer and supporting childhood cancer research.

Whether it was the impact of his friend’s death at such a young age or the injuries he has had to work through, Ike says he tries to “live life day to day and not worry about future stuff – try to be in the moment.”

When it comes to advice for future Little Leaguers who want to play in the big leagues, Ike urges them to “have fun with your teammates and play to win the game.” He also shares something his dad told him when Ike was a senior in high school: “I don’t give a [expletive] what you do in life. I don’t care if you’re going to be a teacher, bus driver, mailman, finance person; if you’re gonna do it, and it’s what you want to do, do it to the best of your abilities – and do it 100%.”

If Ike signs with the right team and his injuries are behind him, it looks like he’ll be giving professional baseball 100% for many years to come.

Editor’s note: At press time, Ike signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Look for him out on the field during spring training in the Valley!

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