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Unheralded Davis blossoms into solid major leaguer

There haven’t been many players step into a batter’s box at PNG Field or its previous name of Blair County Ballpark wearing an Altoona Curve uniform who went on to play 14 years in Major League Baseball and lead the American League in a statistical category.

In fact, there might only be one.

But he wasn’t a member of the 20th anniversary all-time Curve squad, and you won’t hear him mentioned by local fans as one of the most successful MLB players to spend a full season in Altoona.

That’s because Rajai Davis spent parts of only two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, in 2006 and 2007. He hit .262 in 62 at bats and stole just six bases in 11 attempts before being shipped to San Francisco for washed up pitcher Matt Morris and his $14.5 million salary.

Davis never reached his potential with the Pirates, so losing him in a bad trade didn’t hurt fans as much as the team having to eat Morris’ salary did at the time. Davis bounced around to a few other Major League teams, including several in the American League.

It was a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for many Curve fans, but Davis eventually proved to be the franchise’s most underrated player.

Davis immediately made an impact with the Giants and stole 17 bases while sporting a .363 on-base percentage in the final 51 games of the season after the trade.

In 2008, he found himself with the Oakland Athletics, a team known for “Moneyball” and never taking a chance on trying to steal a base. Davis succeeded despite that culture and stole 142 bases over parts of four years with the A’s, including 50 in 2010.

Ten years after his Major League debut, Davis was still going strong. While playing for Cleveland in 2016, he led the American League with 43 stolen bases and recorded his finest moment as a professional.

With two outs and a man on in the bottom of the eighth inning, Davis homered off Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman to tie Game 7 of the World Series at 6-6, sending the home crowd and Ohio native LeBron James into a frenzy. It was the first home run Chapman had allowed since June 18 of that season.

The Cubs went on to win the game and the series in extra innings, but it was a defining moment for the career of Davis, one arguably as big and as clutch as any provided by a former player of the Curve.

Davis played for the Mets last season and was playing professionally in Mexico when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sport. He’s hoping to catch on with a team this season, and with expanded rosters that may be a possibility as he’s still an elite base stealer even at 39 years old.

He’s had 4,244 career at bats and posted a solid .262 average with 62 career home runs, 43 triples, 387 RBIs and 415 stolen bases in his 14-year MLB career with eight different teams.

Davis hit .281 with a .351 on-base percentage and a team-record 45 stolen bases in 2005 with Altoona, and that mark would have been higher if he didn’t fracture his hand in August.

Even if Davis has swiped his final bag, he’s enjoyed a career much longer and more impressive than anyone taking a game in at Blair County Ballpark in 2005 probably thought possible.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael

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