Tripp Davis switches to sidearm with Royals

GREENVILLE – Greenville graduate Tripp Davis, son of Gretchen and Mark Davis and grandson of John and Marty Davis and the late Nils and Collette Eikenberry, a 6’1” left handed pitcher begins his third season in the Kansas City Royals system and begins his second season throwing side-arm in the Royals organization.

“I’ve been doing it for just under a year now,” Davis told the Early Bird Newspaper in a recent interview of his switch to sidearm. “I pitched the whole season in Idaho sidearm. It was a rough two months of learning during spring training and then extended spring training, but once I actually went into games for the season that was it.”

“It’s what I am doing… it’s fully committal,” continued Davis. “I feel comfortable with it now. It’s just trying to get as many reps as possible to build the muscle memory and make that the new normal. I threw the same way for 24 years of my life so I had to basically throw everything out that I knew and learn how to do this.”

Though this is an effective strategy, some of the greatest starting pitchers in baseball history, notably Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Don Drysdale, Carl Mays, Dizzy Dean, and Randy Johnson, threw the ball sidearm.

“The concept is, almost once I land the ball is coming out of my kneecap,” explained Davis. “I’m a lefty. I’m standing all the way on the left side of the rubber. Basically my heel is touching the rubber. Sometimes they don’t even manicure the mound as far out as I am stepping. They are not used to anybody where I am. Nobody is normally over there.”

Two years ago in spring training Davis was throwing 86-89 MPH and touching 90 MPH. Dropping down to the side has taken a few miles off Davis’ pitch.

“It slowed me down a little bit but not a ton,” Davis stated. “From down there I generally pitch 84-85.”

Sidearm pitchers, also known as sidewinders, are uncommon at all levels of baseball. Few find sidearm a natural delivery, and those who do are often discouraged by coaches who know little about sidearm mechanics, and who believe overhand pitching affords greater velocity.

This is generally true, since a high release point uses gravity to accelerate the ball, even as air resistance works to slow the ball down. With a low sidearm release the ball is slowed threefold; by gravity (as it ascends), increased distance (because of its higher arc). And air resistance. What the sidearm pitcher loses in velocity, he gains in ball movement and unusual release point.

“I start normally and then I kinda dive down into it,” Davis explained of his sidearm delivery. “It’s a lot of arm side run and it drops a little bit. It’s a fastball and just the way it’s rolling off my hand from that angle it’s going down and into a lefty and down and away from a righty.”

“I throw a slider that basically moves from 9-6 on a clock… a sweeping pitch that is to get a lefty out, a strikeout pitch for a lefty,” Davis said of his second pitch. “The third pitch that I am trying to develop is just kinda weird from down there. It’s a changeup. It’s coming along. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be.”

“I would need a changeup to go after a righty, but it’s tough down there just trying to find the right feeling,” added Davis.

Davis can be seen in Greenville on a few occasions each year visiting family and friends while fitting in several workouts.

“I’m never really back here for too long,” Davis said. “It’s usually just Thanksgiving, Christmas and then briefly after the season ends. Just get all my visits in with family, see the grandparents and all the cousins and visit with my parents for a few days.”

“I go to Snap (Snap Fitness) and the Greenville baseball team still has the “Yard” over at TCI,” Davis said of his local workouts. “I usually figure out who has a key and weasel my way in there and then I’ll contact guys around town that I used to play with to go throw. It’s usually just trying to get exactly what I need. There is nothing more and nothing less. I just have to find somebody to throw with and get a workout in. I’m usually able do everything in need to do here.”

Jeff Davenport, a 1989 Greenville graduate and standout baseball player at GHS was instrumental in the signing of Davis to a Royals’ Contract.

Davenport began his professional baseball career in 1994 when he was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Boston Red Sox. He was a catcher in the Red Sox system until 1996, when he served part of the year as Boston’s Major League bullpen catcher. He coached in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization from 1997-98 and worked in the club’s Baseball Operations Department during the off-season. He spent the 1999 season as the Major League bullpen catcher for the Chicago Cubs.

Davenport received his bachelor’s degree in communications from Youngstown (Ohio) State, where he played four seasons as a catcher.

Davenport enters his 17th season in the Royals organization and 10th as Senior Director of Team Travel/Clubhouse Operations.

“He usually gets out to Surprise (AZ) spring training first or second week of February and the last two of seasons,” Davis said of Davenport. “I’ve lived out there and worked out at the Royals complex the whole off season so we’ll go to dinner once or twice a week. He’s just got a crazy-crazy schedule. He’s always on call 24 hours a day. Anybody needs anything at the big league level he’s who they call, so he’s a huge reason why I’m with the Royals. He’s kinda taken me under his wing. If it wasn’t for him, his mother my dad’s mom and my mom’s aunt I wouldn’t be with the Royals.”

Davis is very appreciative of his opportunity to play baseball professionally and understands the process and determination it takes to reach the majors.

“Kansas City… they own me,” Davis said. “I’m in their farm system trying to play my way up the ladder and if I’m to make it to the big leagues it would be with Kansas City.”

“As a minor leaguer they say you’re not only playing for the team who you are associated with but you’re playing for the 29 other teams as well,” added Davis. “I hope I make it with Kansas City but the hope is that if you’re doing well and you’re blocked in your organization… there is not a spot for you and another team likes you and sees you fitting into their future plan or an immediate impact at the big league level… the disparity between playing in the minor leagues and the major leagues is huge so if anyone wants to give you a shot you’ll take it.”

Playing in the minor leagues is not always easy or living a lifestyle many view as a life of luxury.

“The minor leagues is almost like an apprenticeship or an internship to get to the major leagues,” Davis said. “If it were too comfortable guys would be content playing in the minor leagues forever. You shouldn’t want to stay in the minor leagues. You should want to get to that plateau of the major leagues.”

“They talk about a funnel. It’s a funnel from little league up through high school to college to the minor leagues to the major leagues,” Davis shared. “There are less and less jobs to be had at every level you go up.”

“If you can’t keep the fun childish side of baseball in your heart all the time it can eat you up,” continued Davis. “At the end of the day you just have to be there to play the game because you love the game. I wouldn’t sit on a bus for a 12 hour bus ride and get off and play 3 games and get back on with a bus with no air conditioning if I didn’t love to play baseball… there are plenty of other things I could be doing.”

Davis played four years of Division I baseball for the New Jersey Institute of Technology and felt his most pressure playing the game he loves just prior to signing right out of college with the Royals on June 17, 2013.

“It is and it’s not,” Davis said of pressure playing baseball. “The most pressure I’ve ever felt was when my senior year was winding down at NJIT and I wasn’t getting any letters or calls from scouts or anything. I knew a scout was coming to watch me so that was my shot if I wanted to move on to the next level. I needed to show them some things.”

“It’s not like I was having scouts come and watch me all the time so that is the most pressure I’ve ever felt,” added Davis. “Now it’s just kind of normal. You just go out there and part of being a professional is doing your job the right way all the time, being consistent and if somebody likes you and sees what you are doing then they might give you a chance, but there is not really pressure now that I’m in the pro-ranks. It’s just trying to get as good as I possibly can get to keep moving up.”

As with all professional players, their play and talent is always on display for their organization to evaluate as well as opposing teams looking to fill a needed position.

“There are scouts in the stands every night,” Davis stated. “You don’t know they are there but they are there. It could be one or two… it could be 12-15, you never know. You are constantly being watched and evaluated not only by your own staff but by scouts from all the organizations. You’re constantly trying to perform and be at your very best all the time so hopefully that one person sees you and likes you and gives you a chance.”

With each progression up the ladder, life on the road becomes a little more comfortable for a minor league player.

“Every level you go up it gets better,” Davis said. “We had a clubhouse manager that wore a shirt in Augusta, GA that said, ‘if you don’t like it play better’ and that is true. Every level you go up the hotels get a little nicer and the busses are a little nicer. In Double-A they load your bag on the bus for you and unload it and have everything hanging in your locker on the road… better crowds, bigger stadiums, better lights to play under. You can actually see the ball most of the time.”

“It’s a game, but it’s a game within the game going on all the time,” concluded Davis. “I have to focus on
what I am doing to get better and focus all the energy into that instead of the other stuff.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Tripp Davis shown with Keith Foutz, Early Bird owner recently visited the
Early Bird Newspaper office in Greenville, Ohio (Gaylen Blosser photo)

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