Mike and I: How It All Began
Two weeks and some change ago marked the birthday of former 10 year big league veteran, Mike Davis. The name may not sound familiar but back in the early 1980’s, Mike Davis was considered one of the A’s top prospects and played 7 seasons with the green and gold as an outfielder before signing as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 1988 season where he contributed to winning the World Series that year as part of the the “Miracle Men”. After the 1989 season he would be out of baseball due to injuries and a mostly average career despite the occasional twenty-plus home run year and a cannon for an arm that he platooned with a twice league lead in errors for right fielders (he actually did that in the AL and NL respectively which, for some reason, I find noteworthy). As time went on, Mike Davis was remembered more for being the guy whose base-on-ball in game 1 of the 1988 World Series enabled the hobbled Kirk Gibson to step up to the plate and hit his game winning home run off Dennis Eckersley thereby burning the image of a smug, grinning Orel Hershiser into the hearts of A’s fans for years to come. Anyway, the point is that if you went to my school in Oakland in the mid-1980’s and were beginning to really get into baseball like my friends and I were then you thought Mike Davis was the man…And I got to meet him.
Looking back it makes little sense why a seven year old would be enthralled by a lanky, error and injury prone, wide-frame glasses wearing, .260-.280 hitting outfielder but when you’re seven a home run is a home run and Mike Davis hit 65 of them between 1985 and 1987 which was impressive enough for me. I like to also think that I appreciated his old school, blue collar work ethic like approach to the game given that this was the time that the much flashier Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire emerged as the A’s main source of power but I really can’t say that as being true. Truth is, when you’re that young it probably was the oddity of glasses and the tall lanky frame that drew me to Mike Davis and looking back, perhaps I was on to something given that these many years later not meeting Canseco or McGwire feels more like a blessing than anything else.
So in 1987, due to a collision of networking that would make LinkedIn feel beta, an A’s front office employee man named “Buzzy” (who got his job because he was an old buddy of Billy Martin’s) who had full access to the Coliseum and was friendly with my dad as the two would talk baseball together while “Buzzy” filled up on gas at the gas station my dad worked at, the groundwork was laid for Mike and I to finally meet. The plan was for my dad and I to arrive at a Royals/A’s game well before first pitch for a mid-week night game. We were instructed to come to the player’s lot (which used to be right next to the Oakland Arena before the mid-1990’s reconfiguration of the Coliseum), check in with security, pick up our tickets and wait for “Buzzy”. What I also received from the security guard for the first time in my life and for Mike to eventually autograph was a brand new Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti signed major league baseball whose pearly white cover and cardinal red seams was one of the most striking things I had ever seen. I of course proceeded to throw it against a wall and scuff it something serious but I think the security guard was impressed with my own emerging cannon of an arm.
When “Buzzy” finally emerged I was immediately drawn to a collection of keys hanging from his belt loop that, from a mile away, sounded like an army of coins making a ferocious charge and looked like something M.C. Escher might paint if M.C. Esher was a locksmith. I also pretty quickly figured out why he was called “Buzzy”. “Buzzy” could move and talk like lightning and with his wiry frame and graying pompadour and mustache we quickly moved to the stadium’s hidden elevator next to where the main ticket box office used to be located. The next stop was the A’s clubhouse and ‘Buzzy” told me to take a seat while he attended to some business. Would I like an Eskimo Pie while I sat and waited inside the A’s locker room and watched my hero’s put on their uniforms? Yes, “Buzzy”, as a matter of fact I would and while you’re checking on Mike to see if he’s up for meeting me I’ll eat about three and become slightly traumatized at the site of Mike “Gags” Gallego and Luis Polonia scratching themselves in their underwear and playing cards (to this day whenever I see “Gags”, now the A’s third base and infield coach, waving someone home I get a craving for an Eskimo Pie but that’s for another blog post). Anyway, “Buzzy” whisked me off down the tunnel to the dugout where the gigantic aforementioned Mark McGwire sat on the dugout bench gripping a bat and chewing an enormous wad of gum while the also aforementioned Jose Canseco walked right past me back into the clubhouse twitching his neck from side-to-side, cracking one-liners to whoever would listen (it didn’t seem like anyone was).
“Buzzy” left me in the dugout for quite a while actually. It didn’t seem strange at the time but I can only imagine how stressed out my dad must have been as his seven year old was now gone, out of his site in the massive Coliseum for well over an hour. These were of course the days before cell phones so you really had no choice but to leave your kids in the trust of people named “Buzzy” but my dad did somehow manage to make his way down towards the dugout so I could see and hear him calling me to check in as I was now standing right next to the field. “Buzzy” had some rough news when he finally returned though: Mike’s back was feeling tight and he needed some extra time in the trainer’s room. Would I want to meet anyone else? Of course I didn’t so we waited longer and longer until eventually Mike Davis came out from the walk way and he finally got to meet me. It’s possible that this interaction was the other way around although the passing of years has made this part of the story hard to recall.
Shaking Mike’s batting glove covered hand felt like shaking an oak tree and to this day (whenever I’m not having an Eskimo Pie related flashbacks) I still get a quick chill whenever I put on a new Franklin batting glove and feel its rubbery texture. I was so overwhelmed by this that I didn’t say much to Mike except that I really liked baseball and the A’s and that I liked recess in school. He very graciously took me on the field and knelt down to sign my ball. He then pointed to right field and told me that in the 4th inning I should look up from my seat, wave to him and he would wave back. I swear that in the top of the 4th this actually happened although he may have just been stretching but Mike did sign my ball, “To, Ben. Wishing you Jesus, Mike Davis”. I wasn’t religious then or now but it felt as if all my young sins were washed away clean and I was now baptized in the temple of baseball and have been a churchgoer ever since.
Mike Davis was a really good guy that day and that’s a story about him and his generosity that a lifetime .259 BA, 91 home run and 371 RBI career doesn’t show. Generosity like that and the kind folks like “Buzzy” and my dad showed me that day gave me a memory to last a lifetime and since I’m horrible with dates there’s a happy belated birthday shout-out, Mike Davis.