Chili Davis takes A's opportunity

February 22, 2012, 11:48 pm
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PHOENIX -- Bob Melvin has a thing about early. He likes early. A lot. In fact, hes spent each of the last two days raving about the pre-dawn to post-dusk workday of bench coach Chip Hale.But this wont be about Hale and his pre-5 a.m. hauntings, or the fact that Melvin himself arrives before 6. Its the first thing that sprang from Melvins lips when he was asked about his self-selected hitting coach, Chili Davis.Hes here early, and thats with just pitchers and catchers here, he said, once again leading with his alarm clock. Its important that the guys see that the hitting coach is going to be there for them whenever they get to the park.Even Manny Ramirez?Melvin smiled. You know what I mean, he said.When told the story, Davis laughed. With Manny, he said, Im going to watch how he does what he does. And I want the hitters to watch, too.Davis is 52, one-fourth of his life removed from the end of his playing career, and he has his moments of pride and his share of regrets. One of those regrets is that this is his first major league coaching job.Ive had opportunities before this, and if I had it to again, I probably should have taken one of them, he said Wednesday. Colorado, San Diego, they asked, and I dont know why I said no, but I did. I had a chance in Arizona and Seattle with Bo (Melvin), but I was going through a lot of crap then and I didnt think I could devote my full attention to it. I missed some chances, I know that.The closest he came to scratching the baseball-after-baseball itch was when he took a job with the Australian Baseball Federation as its chief hitting coach, but he admitted, That was fun, but it was almost like a paid vacation in some ways. It was good, I went back the second and third time because they have some talent there, but it wasnt like being at the park every day. It wasnt like being in the big leagues.But right about the time he was being told he had turned down too many jobs to be ever asked again, he had an epiphany and one more opportunity with the Dodgers as a hitting coach in instructional league in 2010. That became a job with the Red Sox as the AAA hitting coach at Pawtucket, and he had just signed a deal to go back this year (after turning down yet another job, as Seattles roving hitting instructor) when Bostons player personnel director Ben Crockett told him he had a message from Billy Beane.We talked, and then an hour later I talked with Bo, and he asked, and I didnt hesitate, Davis said. But I asked him, Why me? It hadnt happened twice before, but he came back, and I asked him, and he said, Because I liked your approach and the way youd grind out an at-bat. The way youd come to the plate when I was with the Orioles and Id say hows it goin Chuck, and Id say, not now Bo, I gotta hit.Id heard nothing but raves from the people who saw him at Pawtucket, Melvin said. Hed get there early, hed talk to the hitters and teach them and listen to them too. So I figured Id give it another go.This time, Davis said yes. Thus, when Melvin called this time, Davis was eagerness itself, and his alarm was synced to the atomic clock. A career of being declared done, and not just once but several times, had shown Davis that done is mostly a state of mind, and not a terminal condition but the once. Thats something I want to show these guys the (Chris) Carters and the (Michael) Taylors and the (Jemile) Weekses and the (Daric) Bartons and guys like that, he said. Nobody expects anything from them, but theyve all got talent, and theyve all shown it. Now its just getting them to trust it.Its not about me. I dont want to hit any more. Its about them, and understanding what theyre doing and what theyre looking for, and how to wait until it happens. Its about them knowing who they are, and trusting themselves.Davis needed all of his Giant career and half his Angel and Twins careers to learn what that trust really means. His face is a road map of glories and disappointments, of knowledge gained and then used properly, to the point where he was a de facto assistant hitting coach with the Yankees when actual hitting coach Chris Chambliss could only be in three places at once.I remember Joe Torre telling me I should stay in the game, be a hitting coach, and I said, No, Im done, Davis said, using the D-word again. But my mom liked to tell me, When they say youre through, youre just starting.And 12 years later, she nailed it. After a lot of golf, struggles with civilian life, two continents and two minor league jobs, it's unknown whether Chili Davis can be the new Lou Piniella or Rudy Jaramillo on a team that has gone years without being any kind of offensive force. But we do know this:On a team whose manager is big on early and just as big on late, Davis was on the field working and talking with hitters a good two hours after practice had ended. He walked to the dugout while listening to Weeks talk about his approach, and said, Thats what Im after. Mentality, not philosophy.Then he stayed for an hour more, to explain it. And wonder if he'd talked too much to the players, and whether he should back off the next day. And he left after everyone else.Well, everyone but Chip Hale. Apparently, Hale and Davis are Melvins kind of guys come real early, stay real late. That is to say, part vampire.Ray Ratto is a columnist for

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