Austin Davis was 1,000 miles from Citizens Bank Park — and perhaps even farther in his mind — when he walked into Roy Halladay’s office last spring and dropped himself into the black recliner.
Halladay, the author of a no-hitter, a perfect game, and a Hall of Fame-worthy career, was in his first months on the job as a mental-skills coach for the Phillies. He wanted to spread his knowledge about baseball’s mental side, the aspect to which he credited his career success.
Halladay spent the last eight months of his life working five days a week at the team’s minor-league complex in Clearwater, Fla. He met with players individually in his office and held PowerPoint presentations for groups in the team’s conference rooms. He inspired a cast of potential future Phillies, and Davis, who was promoted Tuesday, is Halladay’s first pupil to reach the big leagues.
“I’ve been thinking about him a lot the last few days,” Davis said as he stood inside the Phillies clubhouse. “When I got the call, I started to think about how cool it’s going to be to come in here and see where he did his work. That’s special.”
Davis was just a 24-year-old middling pitcher who had yet to graduate from single-A ball. His first three seasons in the minor leagues were unspectacular. The former 12th-round draft choice looked like a long shot. He needed some confidence. So he sat in that chair, which Halladay had purchased himself, and listened.
“It was zero gravity, so it went all the way back,” Davis said. “He was eating a crappy turkey sandwich from downstairs, and I’m sitting in his zero-gravity chair thinking, ‘This is just opposite.’ ”
Davis told Halladay that he was eager to test himself eventually against double- and triple-A hitters. The competition, he thought, would be stiffer. Halladay told him hitters were all the same. “Yes, they get better. But hitters are hitters,” Halladay said. Halladay told Davis not to overthink it. It is still baseball, even in the major leagues.
“That’s something I can hold onto now that I’m here,” Davis said. “I’ve faced a lot of triple-A guys who were in the big leagues that were down or are coming back up, or guys that are on their way up. Hitters are hitters. You just have to hold onto that and trust your stuff.”
Halladay made the game feel simple as he finished his turkey sandwich. Davis was stressed about not making the double-A team out of spring training, but he felt at ease when Halladay told him what awaited him as he climbed the baseball ladder. Halladay made the major leagues seem “like just another day at the ballpark.”
Davis’ future turned after those meetings. He soon left Clearwater and reached double A, finding success last season in the Reading bullpen. He credits Halladay and the Phillies’ minor-league staff for helping get his career on track. He had a great run this season at triple A and forced the Phillies to promote him even though he wasn’t on the 40-man roster.
“Sometimes the hot hand in triple A can just as easily be the hot hand up here,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “He’s been on a really good roll down there. He’s missing bats, he’s throwing strikes, he’s lefthanded, which is helpful for our current construction, and he’s earned it. It’s a successful organizational story. He was a 12th-rounder who has worked his way all the way to the big leagues. Great story.”
Davis warmed up Wednesday afternoon in the Phillies bullpen, the same place Halladay prepared for his final four seasons. Manager Gabe Kapler called on Davis in the seventh inning of a tied game. His major-league debut came with pressure. Davis jogged to the mound, the one where Halladay threw his unforgettable postseason no-hitter. Davis allowed a single to his first batter and then took a step back to relax. Hitters are hitters. Davis struck out the next batter he faced and rolled the ball over to the Phillies dugout for a memento.
It was an afternoon that would have made his mentor proud and something to talk about over a turkey sandwich.
“Working with him will be something that impacts my career forever,” Davis said.