This past January, Toronto fans were treated to the very successful inaugural Blue Jays WinterFest. As one attendee making his first trip to Toronto and the Rogers Centre put it: “It was awesome, just getting out there and playing ping-pong with people you don’t know, and people you get to meet. It was just awesome.”
— Super Fan Dan (@Danbot26R) September 13, 2018
On September 4th, that very same person attended his first regular season game at the Rogers Centre. One of the highlights was witnessing of the opening of the dome during batting practice. His initial thought was a common one: “This is unbelievable.” Unlike most people experiencing the Dome for the first time, though, this person’s vantage point wasn’t from the stands. He was watching from the field. And this person wasn’t just another fan: He was rookie outfielder Jonathan Davis.
“I was just kind of lost for words,” Davis said, describing his feelings upon receiving news of his promotion. “I mean, of course, you know, been my dream for a while, like it is for a lot of kids.”
The Blue Jays’ 21st ranked prospect has experienced many special, defining moments this season. After a solid first full season in the Double-A Eastern league last year, he followed with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, and an even more successful 2018 campaign in New Hampshire. Davis had a slash line of .302/.388/.443 with 19 stolen bases by early July.
On July 11, after hitting a grand slam for the Fisher Cats, Davis was removed from the game. He originally thought it was precautionary, since he had just returned from an injury. But after the game, manager John Schneider called him into his office and gave the young outfielder a much better explanation.
“After the game, he called me into the office and said, ‘You are going to Triple A. I pulled you out [because] I wanted your last Double A at-bat to be a grand slam,'” Davis recalled. “It was an awesome moment.”
Once a self-proclaimed high school band geek, Davis was now moving one step closer to the major leagues, bringing his positive energy and enthusiasm to Buffalo. Bisons manager Bobby Meachum found that Davis came as advertised. “I heard incredible things about Jonathan as a person and a player, and they were all true,” Meachum said.
Growing up a preacher’s kid, Davis has an deep bond with faith and family. He believes that his faith has been a major influence on his life, and has guided him in his journey to the major leagues. It has also given him a profound appreciation of the things — and people — around him. “I love the game of baseball,” he told me. “It is something that I cherish: the teammates, the coaches I have met, the friends, the different people.”
Montreal Expos legend Tim Raines was one of the first coaches to leave a lasting impact on Davis. “Tim Raines being the base stealer that he was, he was out there working on our leads and our jumps and some outfield work as well,” Davis said of his experience with the Hall of Famer. These are two areas of Davis’s game that he most prides himself on, and that many scouts and evaluators have rated highly.
“I will consider defence to be the best aspect of my game. Simply because, I believe defence is something that you can control at all times,” Davis explained. “Of course, the bat is going to come and go. You can hit the ball hard and get out four times a game. But being ready to go get the ball, making the right throw, I feel I can control each and every day regardless of how it goes at the plate.”
Even though his numbers at the plate during his time in Buffalo were not as good as they were in Double A, Davis still got the attention of the people that mattered. And on the last day of the minor league season, another special moment occurred. Just as had happened when he’d been promoted to Triple A, Davis found himself unexpectedly relegated to the bench, wondering what the reason for the benching might be. He thought maybe, just maybe, history was repeating itself. But he didn’t want to get his hopes up.
“I was just sitting on the bench kind of contemplating maybe I might go up. But since the roster up here [in Toronto] was kind of packed, my mind was set on that road trip home,” Davis said. “But after the game, Devon came out and he pointed at me and said, ‘Hey, Meach wants to see you.’ I came into the office and Ben Cherington, VP of Baseball Operations and Bobby were there. And Bobby said . ‘I just want to let you know you are going up to be with the big league club.'”
An elated Davis immediately phoned the one person who has been his rock, who he loves with all his heart – his wife.
“It was a moment that I will never forget. I went out to call my wife. She burst out in tears, she kind of made me tear up too,” Davis recalled with his customary smile.
Stepping on to the field in Toronto for the first time was an emotional moment for Davis. Remembering the times of doubt or adversity, when he had wondered if it was worth it. Reflecting on his season’s long journey, and the longer journey undertaken over so many seasons before. What he had worked so hard for had finally become reality.
Davis readily admits that when he went to the plate in his first game, he was very nervous. “First thing that went through my mind walking up to the plate is: Is he going to give me a fastball?” Davis said of that first at-bat. “Sure enough it was a 96 mph fastball, and I was like, Let’s go to work. I ended up striking out, and then struck out the next two times. It wasn’t the way you want the start it out. I said to myself, I got the first one out of the way and I’m ready to compete.”
Since then he has appeared in 11 games, mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch runner. That is by design, as explained by Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
“He will be used primarily as a pinch runner. We will get him some game action. He might fill in for those guys [Pillar, McKinney, Grichuk] or something,” said Gibbons. “We have four outfielders trying to get as much playing time as we can. So that will be limited. He will be the guy that will come off the bench for Smoak or Mo [Kendrys Morales] or a couple of those guys.”
No matter what role the team needs him to fill, Davis is ready. And he will do it enjoying his new opportunity and new teammates. “These guys made me very comfortable, guys like Pillar and Morales,” Davis said. “I am very appreciative.”
Of course, Davis the family man has shared his promotion to the big leagues with his wife and parents. This has included enjoying the city as well. He recalled having breakfast with his parents at Cora’s, where he described having the best pancakes, or going to Sweet Jesus for dessert with his wife.
“Yeah, we love the city already,” he said. “You got friendly people around. You just feel the life and energy in this city.”
From playing ping-pong at WinterFest to his first at-bat as a Toronto Blue Jay, Davis has appreciated and enjoyed each moment, no matter how big or small. But at the end of the day, his focus still remains on the game that brought him here: “I focus on what I do best, what I can contribute to the big-league team. Just trying to win a World Series.”