Jays' Davis ready to entertain

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:18 PM ET

Rajai Davis may never become a hall of famer like Rickey Henderson or Roberto Alomar, but he does have one thing in common.

The guy can downright steal a show with his fancy footwork. And, this is his moment to shine for an extended run; his moment to prove he can become the reincarnation of Devon White, a Shannon Stewart clone or an amalgam of whatever carried Alomar towards the Hall of Fame.

Davis is the Blue Jays’ new leadoff hitter, a demon on the base paths, a pitcher’s nightmare and at age 30 and four teams into a major-league career, this is his penultimate opportunity to steal the hearts of a city.

If poise and self-esteem are a measuring stick, perhaps he may yet steal into a corner of the game’s consciousness like his mentor, Henderson. But, that is the future. For now there are smaller victories to be won.

“This is a stepping stone to bigger and greater things. Just getting the opportunity to play leadoff for a major-league team says a lot. It’s hard enough to play this game ... so, yeah, there’s pressure for me to get on base and score runs for this team. But you can’t worry about that, you just have to keep it simple.”

So far simple has worked just fine for Davis. Last year his 50 stolen bases ranked third in the majors and Henderson has predicted he could swipe 80 in a season some day.

For the Blue Jays, he is a game-changer. Davis changes the face of a club that had just 58 stolen bases last year; a club that had become stagnant on the base paths. Davis will change that. How successful remains to be seen.

Alomar probably had the best base-running instincts of anyone ever to don a Toronto uniform; Devon White was jet-propelled and Henderson (in a brief Toronto stopover) was guile and aggression.

Davis? “I’m an entertainer. People come out here and pay to watch us. I have above average major-league speed and that’s the kind of thing people love to watch,” the Jays’ newest centre fielder said yesterday.

He also brings a bit of a swagger. And fun. Veteran Blue Jay, John McDonald listening to the tale of sweetness and light couldn’t resist, peeking around the partition and cocking his eyebrows at Davis, as the two giggled in two-piece harmony.

“Speed gets people excited. That’s the kind of excitement we’ll bring to the ball park every day,” Davis continued. Like Henderson, he can talk a good game, not just play one.

Manager John Farrell maintains he isn’t trying to turn a power lineup into a team of singles-hitters but that he wants to augment that power by putting pressure on defences. And speed, said Davis, can kill a defence.

Toronto ranked last in stolen bases. Ditto going first to third. That won’t happen again. “I understand being an outfielder how difficult it is to run three steps away from the base that you’re throwing to; then try to throw a strike to that base. It’s very tough for outfielders to throw runners out. Almost everything has to go right for them, a lot of things can get in the way. It’s about being aggressive and putting pressure on the defence.”

Davis has an analogy. “Pressure is like shaking the can of soda. If you don’t shake it nothing happens but you when you do; bam, you got trouble. Same thing happens when you get aggressive on the bases. All of a sudden balls start rolling up outfielders’ arms ...”

Davis spent much of the past three seasons in Oakland learning from Henderson, the career major-league leader in stolen bases. Before that Gary Redus, who had eight seasons with 25 steals or more, was his coach in Pittsburgh.

“(Henderson) taught me a lot about the mental side. When he made up his mind to steal. He wasn’t going back.”

Davis rarely goes back either, doesn’t mind toying with a pitcher’s head. “It’s fun, actually, especially when they start looking over and looking over.

The last player with 80 stolen bases was Henderson with 93 in 1988 and only 13 players have had 60 or more in the last 11 seasons.

“You have to believe you can make it,” Davis said. “Fear is a good thing but you have to be able to face it and conquer it. There’s a fear you might get caught but you have to have the confidence to believe that you won’t be.”


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