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OC Register: Hoornstra: Joe Davis reflects on calling ‘one of the great moments in baseball history’


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Since the World Baseball Classic ended, Joe Davis has heard how his Japanese counterpart, Shunsuke Shimizu of TV Asahi, called the final out of the Japan-United States World Baseball Classic championship game.

The final at-bat of the tournament pitted a pair of Angels teammates against each other, with Shohei Ohtani on the mound and Mike Trout in the batter’s box. Shimizu’s call of Ohtani’s strikeout did not leave any doubt how he felt in the moment. The pure elation in his voice crossed the language barrier with ease.

Davis, who was the lead play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports 1, did not express elation. He did not express sadness. “Ohtani strikes out Trout,” Davis said, rising to the occasion but not surpassing it, “and Japan’s back on top of the baseball world.”

That was the last pitch Davis has called on-air. His next will be Opening Day on Thursday for SportsNet LA.

“You never want to be a homer,” he said, explaining his approach to the WBC, “but if ever there were a time … Philosophically, I like to celebrate baseball.”

Davis’ job makes that easy. He called three World Baseball Classic pool-play games for Fox Sports 1, followed by the semifinals, followed by the championship game. His previous engagement in a baseball booth was Game 6 of the World Series for Fox, also alongside analyst John Smoltz. Now Davis is back at home in Los Angeles with the Dodgers.

Along the way, Davis managed to dodge spring training games altogether. I suggested, jokingly, that he ought to retire now and go out on top. Davis, 35, acknowledged the Ohtani-Trout duel – with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in a one-run game, ending on a full fount – will be the most memorable moment of his WBC experience.

“This is one of the great moments in baseball history,” he said – a thought that occurred to him in the moment.

Whether you were thousands of miles away from the action, on the field, or maybe 100 away in a broadcast booth, the reaction to the WBC was the same. In little more than a week since he left Miami, Davis said “everybody wants to talk about it.”

The buy-in among the WBC players was genuine – not just the Latin American and Asian countries, Davis said, but a U.S. roster without any self-appointed fun police. It was easy for those players to match their opponents’ enthusiasm over a two-week tournament.

“I wish everyone could’ve been down there during (batting practice) and seen the passion all those guys had,” Davis said. “Trout, (Kyle) Schwarber, (Mookie) Betts – for them to say ‘this was special, this was different.’”

Major League Baseball’s regular season lasts six months. There will be no win-or-go-home games until October. For the broadcasters and the players, now is the time to pace oneself – literally.

The new pitch clock rules designed to speed up each game were a response to baseball’s slowing pace of play. So far they’re working. From a spectator standpoint, the transition has been mostly seamless in spring training. The games pass more quickly, with less dead time between pitches.

Davis believes his play-by-play will not be negatively affected by the change. As a storyteller, Davis has already shown a preference for pithy anecdotes, unlike his predecessor in the Dodgers’ booth.

Vin Scully mastered the skill of spinning an extended, plot-driven tale over half an inning or longer. That art form practically died with Scully; the pitch-clock era makes it nearly impossible.

For Davis, that’s OK.

“I can count on one hand the number of times in my career I said ‘I wish I had more time’,” he said. “When pitchers work quickly, that’s most often when I think ‘that was a good broadcast.’”

There will be no dry runs for Davis with the new rules. Opening Day will be his first game with a clock in perpetual countdown mode, announcing when the pitcher has violated his time limitation, and when a batter runs afoul of his. It’s go time – even if the last at-bat Davis called was also the best baseball has ever produced.

“Some of the players were talking about it leaving the stadium, joking,” Davis said, his voice at last descending into feigned sadness: “Here we go. Opening Day.”

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