Tournaments | Story | 7/14/2013

Boom! Davidson delivers

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the event that he needed any kind of introduction at all when he first stepped onto the field inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis for the Perfect Game National Showcase about a month ago, Braxton Davidson decided to make sure everyone -- especially the hundreds of scouts in attendance -- received loud word of his arrival.

"Boom! Boom! Boom!" went the bombs, landing with great fanfare in the Metrodome's upper deck in right field; those were only the results from Davidson's first three or four swings during batting practice

 "Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!" -- times three -- went the missiles as the 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-handed swinging Davidson drove nine balls out of the yard in just the first round of the Rawlings Home Run Challenge.  He joined Chase Vallot from Youngsville, La., and D.J. Peters from Glendale, Calif., in the finals and Vallot eventually won the competition. It was quite a display.

"I loved it up there, facing easily the best competition in the country," Davidson said Sunday morning, recalling his PG National Showcase and Rawlings Home Run Challenge experiences while getting ready to join his Dirtbags teammates in their opener at this week's 17u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament.

"It was tons of fun," he said, smiling at the memory of the Challenge. "Of course I wanted to win, but overall just getting to meet all those guys and getting to hit with those guys was awesome, especially the shows that everybody put on -- there were just bombs being hit all over the Metrodome. It was awesome being a part of it and coming in second," he shrugged, "that was no big deal."

Davidson's power display didn't come as any surprise to PG scouts that have watched him perform on most of nation's largest stages since he first took the field for a Dirtbags' team at the 2011 16u PG WWBA National Championship. His increase in arm strength was a little bit of a surprise -- he threw an event-best 88 mph across the infield from first base and 92 mph from the outfield. He is a primary outfielder and first baseman, and the left-hander also will do some pitching.

He was named one of top prospects at the PG National, and a Perfect Game report filed after the event read: "The left handed hitting North Carolina native could make a case for being the top pure power hitter in the 2014 class. But just as impressive was his improved athleticism and arm strength, which bodes well for a future as a corner outfielder rather than a first baseman."

For this week anyway, Davidson -- who calls Arden, N.C. ,home and will be a senior in the fall at renown T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, N.C. -- will turn his attention away from showcase baseball to tournament baseball with all his pals from the Dirtbags.

"I'm really excited about being down here; playing the game of baseball is fun and it's something I want to do for a living some day," he said Sunday before the Sedalia, N.C.-based Dirtbags took the field to open play A's Baseball from Coral Gables, Fla., in their 17u BCS Finals opener at the Boston Red Sox's jetBlue Player Development Complex.

"Coming down to Florida -- I love it down here with all these great ballparks, and the best competition in the country is down here; they're all over Perfect Game tournaments. We're excited and we want to win, that's the main thing."

The Dirtbags skipped last week's rain-plagued 17u PG WWBA National Championship in Marietta, Ga., deciding to come to this Perfect Game national tournament for the first time instead.

"We wanted to do something different this year," Dirtbags founder and head coach Andy Partin said Sunday. "I'm not the kind of guy that just wants to do what everybody else is doing so we decided to come down here; this is a good event. I like the format, and we picked a good (year) to do it because we didn't have to go battle the rain with all those guys in Atlanta."

The team Partin has here is relatively young -- there are six 2015s mixed in on the roster with all the 2014s -- and he said they don't quite have the pitching depth he'd like, but he thinks with this tournament's format, they will be just fine.

The 80 teams play three games in their original pool before the entire field is realigned into a new set of pools, with those pool champions advancing to the playoffs. The pool champions from the second set will then be paired in five playoff groups with the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds in each group playing a first round play-in game and the other  teams receiving byes into the second round.

"I like it because it kind of gets everybody's feet wet (with those first three games) and you kind of calm the nerves, if there are any nerves," Partin said. "I think it's going to be interesting to see the strategy of everybody else and how they manage they pitching. We're not super deep on the mound, so it might be more of a challenge for us these first three games, but we think we've got enough guys to get through these and see what happens. Once we get to the next round, that's when we'll throw our dudes."

The Dirtbags' pitchers certainly got things started in grand fashion on Sunday. Left-hander Jacob Craver (2014, King, N.C.) and righty Hansen Butler (2014, High Point, N.C.) combined to throw a five-inning no-hitter at A's Baseball, striking out eight and walking three in an 8-0 win.

"Last year we had a lot of depth on the mound and this year we don't have as much depth but we've got a lot of hitters," Davidson said of his Dirtbag teammates. "We have a lot of young guys that are playing up with us and the young guys are really, really good. This team is going to  be on the rise next season and especially in the fall when we go down to Jupiter (Florida, for the PG WWBA World Championship). This is a very strong club and I'm excited to play with these guys."

There is no question it starts with Davidson, however. Following the same trajectory of some of those bombs he hit in the Metrodome, he has rocketed to No. 10 in PG's class of 2014 national prospect rankings (No. 2 outfielder) and is ranked the top overall 2014 prospect in North Carolina.

"He's  been great for us for three years now," Partin said. "He means a lot to our program and he's a scary dude at the plate. He's a tough guy to match up against as an opposing team, and it'll be interesting to see how guys pitch him down here. Hopefully he can get some pitches to hit and hopefully we can hit well behind him and get him some pitches to hit.

"He's a tough-nut kid and he's a competitor and he wants to win," Partin continued, adding that he will ask the left-hander to do some pitching here this week. "He brings some things to the table that people maybe don't really know, like the fact that he is very valuable for us on the mound. But he's great for us and he leads by example and everybody looks up to him; when he goes, we go."

There are some other young fans that look up to Davidson, probably even more so than his teammates. He is involved with the Progressive Educational Program (PEP) at T.C. Roberson in which high school students work to serve students with moderate to significant disabilities at three age-appropriate sites in Buncombe County, N.C. Davidson said he "plays for the kids who can't play" -- special needs youngsters who are unable to play the game themselves.

Students sign up  to be involved in the program which works to provide positive influences on those special needs kids. Many of those kids are invited to every T.C. Roberson home game to throw out the first pitch;  all fund-raising projects the Roberson baseball team holds benefits the PEP.

"It's awesome to me," Davidson said. "They make me play harder for them because they're the ones who can't play and I have all the ability in the world, so it makes me go out and play my hardest every game. That's who I do it for -- I do it for my family and those kids because they mean the world to me.

"It's something I look forward to," he continued. "You never know what could happen -- I could go out here and get hit in the head and never be able to play ever again. You've got to live life to your fullest and play your hardest all the time. It's something special to me."

Davidson has committed to play collegiately at the national power University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as part of its 2014 recruiting class. He will be joined in that class by Dirtbags teammates Hansen Butler and Zach Gahagen (2014, Fletcher, N.C.).

"They're my best friends, especially Zach; I grew up  with Zach," Davidson said. "We grew up playing travel ball with each other with the Blue Ridge Bears ... and we've always been best friends. To commit (to North Carolina) in the same day, that was something special. And Hansen, we've been friends a long time, too."

There were a large number of college coaches and other scouts watching the Dirtbags' opener on Sunday, although a total of nine Dirtbags have already made their college commitments. They include Matt Davis (2014, Wilmington, N.C.) and Matthew Horkey (2014, Greensboro, N.C.), both of whom have committed to UNC-Charlotte, and North Carolina State commit Steven Oakley (2014, Durham, N.C.).

Davidson has never really felt unnerved performing in front of scouts, and there's a simple reason for that. His father, Cecil Davidson, has worked as an MLB associate scout.

"I grew up playing in front of a lot of people all the time, so it's kind of natural for me," Davidson said. "My dad ... knows all those guys and I know all those guys so it's just like playing in front of family; it makes me want to play even a little bit better in front of all those guys. It's a little bit nerve-racking at times but it's a lot of fun at the same time."

Braxton Davidson is sure to give the scouts an eyeful this week as one of the brightest stars playing at the 17u  PG BCS Finals. He'll enjoy his teammates and maybe even blast a moon-shot or two, like he did in downtown Minneapolis in mid-June

"I just love playing," Davidson said. "It's great being able to play with great players and playing with these kind of players makes me step up my game and makes me want to be better."

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