TORONTO -- The game of baseball has taken Blue Jays outfielder Jonathan Davis far from home. He has played in the quiet hills of West Virginia and the glaring spotlight of Rogers Centre. He has played in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and in dozens of the American small towns
TORONTO -- The game of baseball has taken Blue Jays outfielder Jonathan Davis far from home. He has played in the quiet hills of West Virginia and the glaring spotlight of Rogers Centre. He has played in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and in dozens of the American small towns and cities that make up the Minor Leagues.
Any chance Davis has to be home, though, that’s where you’ll find him. The 28-year-old from Camden, Ark., now lives with his wife, Hannah, and young daughter, Kapri, in Missouri. On Friday, Davis partnered with Major League Baseball to host a drive-thru Play Ball event in Columbia, Miss., where he distributed baseball equipment to families and children in the community.
To bridge Davis’ two communities, MLB is also partnering with his father, Bishop Jacovis Davis, and The Word Family Church in Camden to deliver more sets of bats and balls to youth in Davis’ hometown. This is work that Davis plans to continue through his baseball career and beyond, but it’s about more than events and equipment. It’s his chance to create the same opportunities for youth in his communities that he once had.
“This is an opportunity for me to give back a little bit,” Davis said. “Without my parents, without my grandparents and the people in that area in my community, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. A lot of those people touched me in many different ways. This is only a small amount of what I really want to do in my community.”
Along with his Play Ball initiatives, Davis is also a member of The Players Alliance, a group of over 100 current and former players using their platform to create more opportunities for the Black community in baseball. He wants kids in his own hometowns who are four, six or 10 years old to see that there is a place for them in the sport.
His first priority, though, is simple. Davis wants these local kids to be seen and heard.
“My main objective with the event is to make sure my community is aware that, first and foremost, I care,” Davis said. “Secondly, I’m trying to help them stay involved in the game. In my community back home and the community in Columbia, I know baseball isn’t the most popular sport. I grew up playing it, but still, at that time, it wasn’t the most popular.”
When Davis was growing up in Camden, Ark., he had his own examples to look to. The two names that jump to his mind are Jim Youngblood and De’Anthony Curtis, both from Camden. Youngblood and Curtis played some baseball growing up, but like many kids in Davis’ area, they eventually pursued another sport. The pair both played football at the NCAA level, and Curtis briefly spent time with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Part of the reason for this can be regional, with football being king and basketball being popular in many American towns, but this is also about accessibility. If young athletes can’t engage with baseball free of barriers, then stories like Davis' will remain an outlier. He’s now focused on removing obstacles for those who come after out of Camden, Columbia and the communities around them.
Davis is thoughtful in looking back on his own lived experience, too. Yes, he made it to where he is because he’s incredibly talented and put in the work, but he recognizes that certain doors were opened for him and not always for others.
“I knew a lot of kids in my community who were stronger, faster, smarter and better athletes than me, from my own hometown when I was growing up,” Davis said. “You lose a lot of them to different things as they grow up. A lot of them fall by the wayside. It’s in me to go back one day and bridge that gap.”
While Davis hopes that he and his work can create those opportunities for others, he points to his family and their support as the reason for his own success.
Davis was recently able to see his parents over Thanksgiving, and while COVID-19 guidelines limited their gatherings, he was still able to see his young daughter spend time with her grandparents. Since then, Davis has been working out and hitting at a nearby facility to prepare for the 2021 season, but he will always make time to help those around him.
“I was privileged to have my parents in my life and have people around me like my grandparents and my family to help me get to where I’m at, to guide me,” Davis said. “A lot of kids from those small towns and communities don’t have that background and that circle to help them be who they should be or reach their potential. That’s where I want to make an impact.”
Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.