Above: Justin Fox (left) embraces Kyle Davis (40) in the dugout following a solo home run Davis hit in the 4th inning against Butler. Photo by All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks
Sophomore infielder Kyle Davis may not necessarily jump out at you the first time you see him play.
He’s not 6’4”, he’s not the fastest kid nor does he have the most powerful bat on the team.
But he is consistent; both at the plate and in the field. And after you watch him play three, four, five, maybe six times, it’s easy to see that he is one of the best players on his team and has the ability to practically do anything he wants on the baseball diamond.
Those qualities, that assessment is part of what ultimately got him overlooked by all the Big 12 schools that weren’t named West Virginia, and the reason he wound up in Morgantown.
“I’m not super flashy, but I was blessed to get an opportunity in the biggest conference that I could go,” Davis said in an interview prior to the Fall Baseball season. “That was my biggest goal: to go to a school with a good medical program, and really good fan base, really high academic standard, and really good conference.”
Davis starts to turn a double play against TCU.
Davis has been playing baseball since he was six years old, growing up in Cincinnati.
He was a third baseman and a catcher at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy where, according to his father Duane, he broke six school records over the course of four years. In 2013 he set the school record for doubles in a season with 18, while batting for a .466 average.
The next season Davis hit eight fewer doubles, but he hit at an incredible .480 clip.
Despite his solid numbers Davis wasn’t getting some of the collegiate looks he and his family thought he deserved.
“He was a kid that just always produced,” Duane said. “So, when you’re 5’11, he’s not the fastest guy in the world, you’ve got to see him play a bunch of times. There were many colleges that were on him, but he probably didn’t get the big-time schools that, based on his production, we thought he would hear from. It wasn’t like he was being fought over by those schools. But anybody that saw him play five, six, seven times loved him.
“It was a best of times, worst of times type of deal. You think he should be getting attention from bigger schools. The fact that he’s not, I understand why. But, at the end of the day when you see production over time, it’s like yeah he can play at that level no question.”
West Virginia was one of those schools that loved him. Duane talked of one particular time the Mountaineers had eyes on his son.
“I remember this like it was yesterday,” Duane said. “(Kyle) had been moved up from the 16 year-old team to play with the 17 year-old kids. He was a sophomore. Eric Matlock was sitting up in the stands at 8 o’clock in the morning up in Cleveland. Kyle had a great game. My parents happened to be sitting behind (Matlock) and saw the notes that he was writing down. ‘Great stick. Got to look at this kid.’”
The next part is obvious. Davis signed a letter of intent to play baseball for the Mountaineers, the only member of the Big 12 conference that offered him.
“I wanted to go to the biggest conference I could, so that obviously made (WVU) the top choice,” Kyle said. “But when I saw the new renderings of the stadium I was like, ‘That’s incredible.’ They have a really good medical program, so, that’s what I want to do in the future. And it’s only four-and-a-half hours away from home. My grandparents can come see me, my parents. Coach Mazey was awesome. You’re here and it feels right. All the visits I came on, and it just felt right. So I was like I must be here.”
Duane concurred, “He wanted to play in the biggest conference he could. I don’t know if it was meant to be, but it has certainly worked out well.” He went on to say, “At the end of the day it was like, ‘I’m supposed to be here for something.’ And maybe last year rubber-stamped that he was supposed to be there.”
Part of the reason it has worked out so well is because of his hitting ability, something that appeared evident from the get go.
“As soon as he walked on campus you could tell that he had a really good feel for hitting,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. “Once we realized that, it occurred to us that we needed to find a way to get him in the lineup. So, we tried him at third base, tried him in left field, tried him at second base, he actually caught some in the fall and early spring. We were just trying to find a way to get his bat in the lineup.”
Last season as a freshman Davis did things that haven’t been done by a first-year player at WVU since current major leaguer Jedd Gyorko wore the blue and gold.
Davis hit for a team-leading .353 average, and also led the Mountaineers in at bats, runs scored, doubles and on-base percentage. He was named to Baseball America’s Freshman All-American Team and, among other accolades, was named to the All-Big 12 Rookie Team and All-Big 12 Second Team.
So, how does Davis improve upon last season? Statistically it will be hard to do. However, according to the head coach, he’s made progress since last season ended.
“He’s getting a lot more serious about his baseball ability,” Mazey said. “He’s transformed his body a little bit; he looks great. He’s moving a lot better; he’s way more athletic. He’s starting to realize that he’s a really good player.”
Motivation is a part of what’s driving Davis to continue to improve. He hasn’t forgotten about the eight opposing teams in the conference, or any other team in the country for that matter, that didn’t show interest.
When asked if the fact that his only Big 12 look came from WVU motivates him, Davis said, “It obviously puts a chip on my shoulder. ‘Who’s this kid? Where’d he come from?’ That’s what I want to show people. I got the last laugh almost. I’m here, and I would rather stay here than be at any other Big 12 school for sure.”
“He gets really motivated to face the best team on the schedule, the best pitcher that we play against,” said Mazey. “That’s why he has his best at bats and best average against the best guys.”
Asked what set WVU apart from other schools that were interested in him, and that he was interested in, Davis said that the Mountaineers brand new field, that during his recruiting process hadn’t even begun to be built yet, was a selling point.
“We would look at pictures of it on Facebook, and we would look at renderings of it trying to picture it,” said Davis. “And it was just so hard, looking back on the pictures now, it was like, now I see where that was going, but it was kind of hard to tell back then on those renderings. The anticipation was just really real. We just wanted to get out there. Once we finally stepped on it, and looked back and saw the 3,500 people, there’s nothing I can really compare it to. Just having everyone here for you, because West Virginia doesn’t have many sports teams. So, the state really revolves around West Virginia and that other school. It’s incredible. The fan base we have here. And now that this thing is built, the fans want to come. We have more space now for more fans than ever. Playing on this field for the first time, being one of the first people to play on this field, it’s something that I can say forever, and look back on.”