Friday, January 21, 2011
Monday, Jan. 3, was a memorable day in the life of Darrell Davis.
It was the day Davis received a message at home to call back Brad Mayfield, a former baseball coach at Blue Springs High School in Kansas City. Davis’ best guess was that with all the time on his hands from being recently retired, Mayfield was calling for assistance at an upcoming coaching clinic sponsored by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association.
A good guess, but not the right one. It turns out Mayfield wanted to be the first to congratulate Davis, the former longtime skipper for the Fulton Hornets, on being one of three coaches elected to the MHSBCA Hall of Fame Class of 2011.
So, yes, that was pretty shocking. But not as much as what happened next.
“I waited about 10 seconds and then I said, ‘I don’t think the people in Fulton will believe this, but I am actually speechless right now,” Davis recalled.
Though he wasn’t able to speak, albeit briefly, Davis’ run at Fulton speaks for itself. His legacy of 365 wins, a state championship, five district titles and two 20-win seasons says volumes about the man who spent the better part of his adult life coaching his alma mater.
On Saturday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Jefferson City, Davis will be honored by his peers for his 31 years in the Fulton dugout. Not bad for a guy who started off just wanting to coach baseball and went on to make himself practically synonymous with baseball in Callaway County.
“I grew up around baseball all my life and this — for me — is about Fulton baseball,” Davis said. “It’s about every player that has ever played at Fulton, every coach, specifically assistants Darren Masek and Bob Gould. You want to surround yourself with good people and they are invaluable to our program.”
• • • • •
Davis speaks of the game of baseball with a fondness — from the nights he used to stay up with his grandfather to listen to the Cardinals play on the West Coast to his adolescent playing days in the Fulton American Legion.
American Legion baseball was all he could play as a high school student since Fulton High School didn’t establish a baseball team until 1975. That came a year after Davis graduated and started playing collegiately at Crowder College in Neosho and then William Jewell College in Liberty.
He’ll even tell you stories about playing in his parent’s front yard. He played so much, in fact, that the grass wouldn’t grow in certain spots of the yard.
“Most parents wouldn’t like that, but ours did,” Davis said. “That meant it was getting played on.”
But, as previously pointed out, all Davis wanted to do was coach. So in his first year teaching at Fulton, he made it known to then-athletic director Bob Fischer that he was eyeing the baseball coach’s job.
But with someone already in place, Davis had to put the baseball diamond on hold for another job coaching boys’ tennis.
Davis bided his time while former coach Dan Oakley ran the Hornets baseball team. But Fischer never forgot Davis’ plea to run things on the diamond and said that should the job ever become available, he’d call up him up.
Davis’ shot came in 1979. And his first game couldn’t have gone better. It was a no-hitter thrown by pitcher Steve McDonald against a good Fatima team.
As luck would have it, Davis ran into McDonald at Arris’ Pizza in Fulton over the recent holidays and reminded McDonald of his brush with being untouchable.
“I told him that he pitched a no-hitter in my first game as a high school coach, and he just kind of smiled and looked at me,” Davis recalled. “But he knew what I was talking about.”
Davis has plenty of stories just like that one from his years on the job. And there’s always two constants — his love of the game and his players.
“I don’t care who you are or what sport you coach, you have to have talent and you have to have good players,” Davis said. “Whether kids played one year or four years and didn’t play a game, they were all important.”
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Davis himself is a Fulton lifer. So many of the players that have come under his tutelage probably saw him one time or another roaming through town or through a Little League game.
Former Hornets third baseman Gabe Craighead remembers his first few times running into the coach as a 12-year-old during the Babe Ruth League regional tournament that Fulton hosted.
“When you host those tournaments you aren’t expected to go far, but we ended up placing second in our division,” said Craighead, now Callaway County’s Eastern District Commissioner.
Craighead was a standout third baseman for Davis’ 1995 team that finished third in the state. Craighead had a scholarship to play at the University of Missouri before an accident left him with damage to his eyes.
“Coach is not only a good coach but he’s a mentor and a friend to all of his players,” Craighead added. “We really respected him, and after my accident and surgery he came to see me and told me to never give up and play as long as I can.”
Davis guided three teams to the final four, including the state championship squad in 1990. “That team had it all for a high school team,” he said.
But he might not have felt prouder of a team than he was of the 2009 final four squad, which eventually finished fourth. Picked last in the North Central Missouri Conference before the preseason, the Hornets were nothing more than “average,” according to Davis.
And after a rare loss to South Callaway, Davis had just one question for his team.
“He sat us all down and asked us where the state championship was held, and we all just sat around shaking our heads because we didn’t know,” Christensen said. “He said, ‘Springfield,’ and told us that we don’t even think we can win and if you don’t think you can win, then you aren’t going to win.”
Davis wanted results on the diamond and on the basketball court — where he also directed the Hornets for 21 years.
“The best compliment I can get from a player is that they, one, had fun, and, two, learned to do things the right way on and off the field,” Davis said.
• • • • •
“He would never say so, but I think if you ask around and say, ‘Fulton baseball,’ I’d say he is the first name thought of,” Adam Davis said.
Adam Davis played second base for his dad before moving on to play at Truman State University in Kirksville. Complications can arise from fathers coaching sons in high school, but never with Darrell and Adam Davis.
“It was a fun experience because he was always good at leaving the game on the field and never bringing it home, so it made it an easy thing to play for him,” Adam Davis said.
And when it came time to decide who would do his introduction Saturday, Darrell Davis didn’t think twice.
“That was an easy choice to have your son, who played for you and in college, introduce you,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say, but he knows I have the hammer and I get to talk after him.
“Knowing him, it could be a roast since we are so much alike.”
How much alike? Ask Adam how he responded to the news of his dad’s induction and being requested to do the introduction.
“I was speechless,” Adam Davis said. “And that doesn’t happen to us a whole lot.”