By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Zak Wasilewski is getting the opportunity to play professional baseball with plenty of friends and family in the seats at Bowen Field.
Doug Davis wants the Bluefield pitcher from Tazewell to enjoy the moment. He certainly would have liked the same chance.
“This will be Year 30 for me in professional baseball. If I sit back and think about the time I have actually been able to stay home during those 30 years, it is not very much,” said Davis, who is the Minor League Field Coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays. “Any time any of these players have an opportunity to be close to home, to be with family, to experience playing in front of people that maybe don’t get a chance to see them play very often, I think that is a special time.
“It is neat for players to have that opportunity.”
The 50-year-old Davis, a native Pennsylvanian, began his professional career in 1984 as a ninth round draft choice by the California Angels out of North Carolina State. He played a total of seven games in the major leagues, with the Angels in 1988 and four years later in Texas.
He has remained active in the game, serving as bench coach for the Florida Marlins from 1993-94, and was a manager from 2007-08 for Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse.
Yet, his role current role seems to fit him just fine.
“This job is great for me because obviously I am in uniform and lot of the time and a lot of people in my situation or people that would be considered executives don’t get a chance to stay in uniform very much and I do,” said Davis, who was in Bluefield in an evaluation and instructional role last week. “That is a big part of it for me, I enjoy being on the field, being hands-on with a lot of the players.
“I enjoy managing, I really did, but I did that for quite a few years in my career and I think this job is something that gives me the best of both worlds and the opportunity to impact a lot of players’ lives and a lot of people’s lives. I enjoy that and I get to do it again with my uniform on my back at times so that is a good point.”
What exactly does Davis do in his role as a field coordinator? Davis admits ‘it covers a lot’.
“From my standpoint I am somewhat in charge of everything that happens on the field with our programs, players, staff, anything that is associated with our on-field type endeavors with the Toronto Blue Jays in our minor league system,” he said.
Davis, who had also been a catching coordinator for much of the last five years for Toronto, has been replaced in that role by Sal Fasano, but still works with players, while also making sure the right people are in place to teach the players the ‘Blue Jay Way.’
“My primary responsibility is monitoring and evaluating our staff,” Davis said. “I think that weighs heavily on my shoulders and I for the most part, all the other staff members you see here, if they weren’t here before me, I hired them to be here.
“That is probably the most important one, and then again also our programs that we set up, our team fundamentals, anything you see happening on the field, plays that we tend to do, the fundamental type of work that we get done, I am responsible for those programs as well.”
There is a reason why Dennis Holmberg has been the only manager the Blue Jays have had since arriving in Bluefield three years ago.
“Dennis has done this kind of level and has handled this type of team for a long time in this organization,” Davis said. “He is great just integrating players into the Blue Jay organization, players that are coming from high school programs, college programs, Latin America, because he is very attentive to the whole picture.
“He is not just interested in baseball and what goes on this baseball field, he is interested in how these kids conduct their lives outside of baseball. How they handle being in a hotel or being at Mountain View, how they dress themselves, the way they handle themselves when they are at a restaurant.
“He is very attentive to the whole picture and he does a great job so I think he handles this level extremely well with this type of player...
“Dennis is perfect for that level.”
Bluefield was added as a farm team three years ago to give Toronto seven minor league affiliates, and Davis has the task of figuring out who plays where.
“I think the benefit we have with seven teams is I think for the most part we have a pretty good idea before we even get started putting players on certain teams, we pretty much know the type of team we are going to have,” Davis said. “You always know that this team in this Appy League is going to be a young team, it is going to be a team that is going to have our prospect Latin players coming here.
“It is going to have some kids out of the draft so it is going to have a lot of newness to it.”
He especially likes the prospects in Bluefield, many of whom are rated among the top prospects in the Blue Jays’ organization, from infielders like Matt Dean and Mitch Nay, outfielders D.J. Davis, Jonathan Davis and D.J. Jones, and a slew of pitchers, including Adonys Cardona, Alberto Tirado, Tom Robson and Jario Labourt, and the list continues on and on.
“I think we have put a team here that is full of prospects and interesting players that potentially could be pretty special players within this organization...,” Davis said. “It is a really neat group of guys because we have a nice core group of kids that have come out of our Latin American program, but then we have a good group of guys that have come out of either last year’s draft or the year before.
“This is a fun group to watch and it is full of players that I think are going to be pretty special players within this organization.”
It isn’t just players that Davis is evaluating for promotion within the system. Managers, coaches, trainers and more are looking for the same opportunities.
“We are just looking for good conscientious, hard working individuals who have some experience,” Davis said. “They certainly don’t need to all have major league experience, but have some playing experience, have some understanding of organizing professional baseball and all that that entails.
“Also we look for people that have some upside, that we know if things goes well, they are going to be individuals that can move to higher levels and can continue to progress their career as well as helping our players with their career.”
That includes the ability to handle a plethora of different personalities, and the environments as well, such as the rural setting of Bluefield to the next step in the system, which is big city Vancouver in Canada.
“We put a lot of emphasis on our staff being able to do those types of things and that is what they do, throughout our organization to various degrees we deal with the same type of thing,” Davis said. “We are in different places. Vancouver is a much different place than Bluefield, West Virginia, it is a huge city and honestly for players, it is not all that different from this group.
“We have a lot of young players, a lot of young kids now, and you put them in a situation where they are in a city of 3 or 4 million people. It is a challenging part of the game, but again I think our coaching staff has to take a lot of credit in how they are handling it.”
One of those prospects entrusted to the staff chosen by Davis is Wasilewski, who hasn’t let the pressure of playing professional baseball so close to home hamper his performance on the mound.
“I would say it is probably two-fold for him, I am sure he loves having the opportunity to be home and playing in front of people that he knows,” Davis said.
“I think that is great experience and experience that probably everybody would like to have at some point in their career. It is a challenge for him since he is so young, and it is such an early part of his career.
“Again, he is not playing in front of 10-or-20,000 people, he is in front of a relatively small crowd, but a good vocal crowd and people that are very supportive of his efforts. That probably helps him out immensely.
“I am sure it is tough on one hand, but it probably makes it a little bit easier on him on another hand.”
—Contact Brian Woodson