STORRS – As he struggled to find himself in the batter's box, to impress another new set of coaches and teammates, Blake Davey became a frequent visitor to coach Jim Penders' office.
"I didn't know what we had until two or three weeks into the season," Penders said. "He did not have a good fall and he kept coming into my office — he likes to talk a lot, he's a very bright kid. He kept wanting to tell me 'you haven't seen the real me yet.' "
Once Davey, with his fourth school in four years, got into the Huskies' lineup, he became, in the baseball sense, a real life "Kelly Leak." Like that character in "Bad News Bears," Davey has drifted around a bit, has that hardened, been-there-before look, and has suddenly appeared as a ringer in the middle of a struggling team's lineup.
"I feel like I'm watching one of the best hitters in the country unfold," said UConn captain Tom Verdi. "We didn't know what kind of player we had."
Davey has played in 41 games, is hitting .347 with a .475 on-base percentage with nine home runs – half his team's total – and 27 RBI. The Huskies (21-22, 5-9 in the AAC) have had promising stretches but a frustrating season so far and lost three to Louisville over the weekend. They play at UMass (9-26) Tuesday at 3 p.m.
"This team is a lot more talented than the record reflects, and I don't think anybody would say otherwise," Davey said. "It's just a lot of poor timing, not capitalizing on certain situations. We haven't been able to put the dagger in, so to speak."
Davey's first big break out came during a series against Lipscomb in Nashville, Tenn., on March 2, when he hit a long home run. He had three homers to win American Athletic Conference player of the week honors the week of April 14. Last weekend Davey hit a dramatic ninth-inning homer to tie the score with Temple, but UConn lost in 14 innings. He homered again in a win at UMass April 22.
"People have asked if I'm an average hitter or a power hitter," Davey said. "I'd say, historically, it was one or the other. Now this year, it's been a combination of both. It's been nice to be able to get some hits consistently, but also display some power."
From Newport Beach, Calif., where he was a top catching prospect, Davey, 6 feet 3 and 237 pounds, enrolled at Arizona and tried to make the team as a preferred walk-on. When that didn't happen he played a year at Pima College, then a year at Cypress College for coach Scott Pickler, who knows the UConn coaches through the Cape Cod Baseball League. Last spring, after UConn was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, Pickler recommended Davey and UConn accepted him without seeing him play, except on video.
Through the NCAA's 4-2-4 rule, Davey, 22, had earned enough junior college credits to move back to Division I. He is eligible through next season and can graduate as early as January with a degree in resource economics, with a minor in business fundamentals.
"I'm a bit of a pinball when it comes to playing college baseball," Davey said. "I've played all over the place. I value the degree a lot. College has always been my first priority. The odds of making it to the major leagues aren't very good and I'm realistic about that. I've always valued the degree and I wanted to go somewhere where the academics were really good, like UConn."
Davey did not impress during the fall season but worked through the winter – his first in a cold climate — at shortening and leveling his swing. He has been playing with a sore arm, which has kept Penders from using him behind the plate. He can play the corner positions, however, and has settled in right field and the No. 3 spot in the lineup. With cleanup hitter Bobby Melley hitting .378 with three homers and 32 RBI, the Huskies have a righty-lefty punch in the middle of their lineup. They also have a 2.81 team ERA, but have lost five extra-inning games.
"Without Blake, I don't know where we'd be," Penders said. "He has been the one constant. He's like the oasis in the desert, you know you're going to see him every nine batters. Bobby is right behind him, both solid. We're in every game, which makes [losing] torture."