On the chilly ocean waters off the coast of Alaska, commercial fishing is a popular, and deadly career field.
And it’s also what made Jon Davis such a tough individual.
These days, you can find Davis playing in the outfield for Kansas State, wearing pitches that are thrown at him, leading the Wildcats in hitting in Big 12 play and, yes, wearing his moustache proudly.
But in his youth, Davis was alongside his father on a boat, learning what it’s like to earn every thing you get.
“My dad works hard to get what he wants so obviously I’ll never just have anything handed down to me,” he said. “I started working with my dad at a young age because I wanted money. In order to work in that industry you need to be tough. I couldn’t go crying to mommy or daddy, because my dad was my boss, my dad would tell me to suck it up.
“I learned to work through the pain and get it done, and that translates to everyday life. It’s not going to be easy everyday, and I’ve translated that over to baseball.”
Davis, who is hitting .345 with five home runs and 22 RBIs, describes the fisherman’s life as one that isn’t for the average man. It takes knowledge of a boat and a mental toughness that not every one possesses. It’s a job that formed his identity. And something that led him to transfer from his first college.
After four years of high school baseball in California, Davis went to college baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton. But the non-baseball side, behind-the-scene politics Davis experienced was too much for the Alaska native, and he transferred to Palomar junior college. After a season at Palomar, Davis chose to transfer to K-State.
Davis said the draw of Manhattan was in the scenery, and the draw of K-State was in the attitude.
“When I talked to coach Hill he said it’s a blue collar program and you have to work hard to get what you want here, and that goes back to being on a boat where my dad never made it easy for me,” he said. “I always had to work hard to get what I wanted.”
Davis’ first-year experience with the Wildcats didn’t get off to an exactly hot start though, as he had just one hit in his first 18 at-bats. During a session in the batting cages, Davis hit a ball straight up and it ricocheted off the cage and struck him in the mouth, chipping a tooth. Davis didn’t let it bother him though, going right back at it.
He finished the season hitting .316, including a second-ranked .387 average in Big 12 play, with one home run and 15 RBIs.
K-State coach Brad Hill said Davis never gave up. And he credits his upbringing for it.
“His perseverance and just staying the course —some kids could have quit and just said I’m done,” Hill said. “That’s not Jon, it’s not who he is. His background and his work ethic, he wasn’t going to quit and kept fighting through.”
Davis opened his 2013 campaign off on the wrong side of .200 too, going four for his first 24. He said he started to pull it together after he stopped pressing and began focusing on doing whatever it took to contribute to the team. He leads the Big 12 on hitting in conference games with a .517 average.
Davis also has a knack for getting plunked by pitches, leading the Wildcats with 15 this season. It’s something Hill calls unexplainable. But he said it fits his personality perfectly.
“He’s unique,” he said. “Every thing I’ve ever asked him to do, he’s done it. He takes pride in who he is and what he stands for.”
Davis said he’s been driven this season by proving doubters wrong. After last season’s 27-31 finish, the expectations were set low. And Davis said it’s been fuel for the whole team.
“Everybody doubts us, and it really sets a fire under us,” he said. “Since day one it’s been about coming out and proving people wrong. They picked us close to finishing last in the Big 12 and we don’t care what other people think, it’s what we think.
“We never give up and that speaks to our character. We’re coming out to play all nine and we’re going to play hard and fast.”
Davis has also been notable for something that has nothing to do with baseball this season — his moustache. Whenever Davis steps up to the plate, the moustache takes focus. And it’s taken on a life of its own.
“I should probably let my moustache speak to (its popularity),” Davis joked. “I just grew it out, I don’t really care what people think of me. If you don’t like the way I look — I’m not the best looking guy or anything. I think that can translate to the baseball field too. We don’t care what people think if we’re playing hard. There’s a lot of good luck going on in the ‘stache I guess you could say.”
Davis said he shaved his head and all his facial hair before the season started. Soon after, he started to grow it back out. And after losing a bet — which he didn’t describe — he was forced to shave his facial hair. But he left the moustache.
And he doesn’t plan on taking a razor to it anytime soon.
“I think it’s cool, I’m not trimming it or shaving it until after the season,” he said. “As long as coach Hill lets me, I’ll keep it. I think if we keep on winning it will keep happening. Hopefully that’s the case because I want to see how nasty it can get.”