As we continue our 30th anniversary celebration of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes and look forward to the 2013 American Family Insurance ALL-USA baseball team, we take a look at 1995 ALL-USA Player of the Year Ben Davis of Malvern (Pa.) Prep, who was a catcher for three major league teams.
Ben Davis played professional baseball for 16 years, including seven years in the major leagues. Though he’s retired from baseball, he still puts fans in the seats.
Davis, 36, is a salesman for Comcast-Spectacor in the premium seating department at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, which hosts the Flyers, the 76ers and concerts. He’s also a commentator on Comcast SportsNet’s Phillies pregame and postgame shows.
“I love doing both jobs,” Davis said. “At Wells Fargo, we have some big corporations who have contractual suites and small business owners who may rent a box one time. It’s really a fun arena. It’s nice meeting new people. I grew up here and I was always a Flyers and Sixers fan to begin with. With the other job, the studio is here in the arena and I split the shows with Ricky Bottalico (a former major league pitcher). It’s just a lot of fun to talk about baseball.”
After a senior season at Malvern Prep, where he hit .507 with four doubles, seven triples and six homers, had 37 RBI and threw out eight of 12 runners, it didn’t take long for Davis to reach the majors.
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The San Diego Padres made him the No. 2 pick overall in the June amateur draft in 1995. He was 21 when he made his major league debut in 1998. The next two seasons, he split his time between Class AAA Las Vegas and San Diego. In 2001, he played 138 games with the Padres, including his most famous at-bat, when he used a drag bunt in the eighth inning to break up a no-hitter by Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling.
“I can’t tell you how many people still remember that,” Davis said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. They were only up 2-0. If you saw my first couple of at-bats, you would understand why I bunted. He was that good that night.”
During that offseason, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners.
“I was thinking that I might get to play my entire career in San Diego when I was traded,” Davis said.
Splitting time with Mariners catcher Dan Wilson, Davis saw his at-bats and batting average plummet, going from .259 his first season with Mariners to .091 in 2004, when he was sent down to the team’s AAA affiliate in Tacoma, then traded to the Chicago White Sox, where he finished the year hitting .239.
For the next three seasons, he toiled in the minors as a great defensive catcher in search of a batting stroke that had gone south.
“I don’t know what happened,” Davis said. “It seemingly disappeared overnight. I worked on hitting and trying to shorten my swing.”
At 6-4 and 240 pounds, Davis’ natural swing was difficult to cut down. In 2008, he was released by he Baltimore Orioles after hitting .178 with their AAA team in Norfolk, Va., and decided to try something drastic.
“I still wanted to stay in the game and I always had a strong arm, so I decided to try pitching,” he said.
He worked with Delaware County Community College (Media, Pa.) coach Paul Motta and tried to apply what he learned about pitching as a major league catcher.
“I just tried to keep things simple and throw strikes,” Davis said.
After compiling a 3.00 earned run average in six appearances in 2008 with the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks of the Independent League, Cincinnati Reds scout Shawn Pender, a family friend, signed him and Davis was assigned to the Reds’ Class A team in Sarasota, Fla. He had a 3.09 ERA as four saves in nine games with Sarasota in 2009 when he blew out his right (pitching) shoulder, the same day he heard he would be promoted to AA. After rehabilitation, he returned to Camden in 2010 but retired after going 5-11 with a 4.61 ERA.
He says he feels blessed to be able to stay close to sports, yet be able to come home to his wife and three young children.
“One of my biggest clients sent a note to me saying he appreciates what I did,” Davis said. “That’s very gratifying. I wouldn’t say I get the same rush as hitting a bases-loaded double, but when you do make a big sale, it’s pretty rewarding.”