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Elk Grove’s J.D. Davis finds he’s already fitting in with the San Francisco Giants

Sacramento Bee 8/8/2022 Chris Biderman, The Sacramento Bee

Giants ace Logan Webb wasn’t thrilled when he first saw the news. Slugger Darin Ruf, a popular member of San Francisco’s clubhouse, was traded to the New York Mets.

“And I was super down from that,” Webb told The Bee Thursday. “And then I thought it’d be for younger guys.”

But Webb’s mood changed quickly when he saw what the Giants were getting back in Tuesday’s pre-deadline swap. Then came a text message from his familiar new teammate featuring just the eyes emoji.

“I was super excited. I said ‘LFG,’” Webb said.

The emoji came from J.D. Davis, the power-hitting corner infielder and outfielder whom Webb used to work out with in the Sacramento area during the offseason. The Giants acquired Davis as well as pitchers Thomas Szapucki, Nick Zwack and Carson Seymour.

The familiarity came from Webb and Davis playing high school ball in the Sacramento area — Webb went to Rocklin High School while Davis played at baseball powerhouse Elk Grove. The two have been friendly for years and occasionally spend time together in their offseason homes in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I don’t know if everybody has put one and two together that we’re all from Sacramento,” Davis told The Bee on Thursday before making his second start with San Francisco. “I think over time it will be, and it’ll be the inside joke that we’re multiplying around here.”

Indeed, the number of Giants with ties to the Sacramento area continues to grow. Webb’s rise to stardom has been a big story in Rocklin. Assistant coach Alyssa Nakken made history earlier this season by becoming the first woman to coach first base in major league history. She grew up in nearby Woodland and played softball at Sacramento State. Relief pitcher Sam Long, also a Sac State alum, has appeared in 40 games for San Francisco the last two seasons and is currently stretching out his arm for the River Cats in Triple-A before trying his hand as a starter.

“I just think it’s a blessing and a dream come true to have it come full circle to grow up in Northern California and now play for the Giants,” Davis said.

However, Davis grew up a Dodgers fan after spending the early years of his life in Southern California. He moved to Elk Grove just before high school. Davis said he’s getting a custom Giants jersey for his father, Greg, a diehard Dodgers supporter. The irony was not lost on the Davis family that his debut with his new team came against the one he rooted for growing up.

“It’s been hilarious,” Davis said. “I keep getting text messages from guys saying they want pictures of my dad in a Giants uniform and everything. I think it’s been pretty cool, having it come full circle.”

Like Webb, Davis was a high-profile high school quarterback. He might have received legitimate interest from Division I college programs had he not broken his leg before his junior season. But the injury ended his football career, leading to playing baseball year-round.

Also like Webb, Davis believes his high school football career helped him withstand the challenges that come with playing in the major leagues.

“I think the mental toughness of football, nobody likes going out in August and September in two-a-days, wearing pads and running gassers in 100 degrees,” Davis said. “Also on the physical side, I was the quarterback, so that was my time to almost strengthen my arm. So all the offseason I would just throw the football and so that would help out my shoulder and the conditioning of it. And then by the time spring came along, I picked up the baseball and it felt like one ounce.”

Giants manager Gabe Kapler, who said Davis has a “great presence” and is a “warm dude,” noted before Thursday’s game that playing quarterback, even in high school, can have tangible impacts on athletes later in life.

“Football, it’s very much a dance. And if one piece of that dance is off, everything falls apart,” Kapler said. “If something was just a little bit off, it was going to get cleaned up, I think quarterbacks know that they have to clean things up on the field.”

Davis in 2011 was drafted out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth round. But he decided to play college ball at Cal State Fullerton instead. It paid off. The powerful right-handed hitter hit .338 with a .419 on-base percentage while slugging an impressive .523 in 2013-14. He was picked by the Houston Astros in the third round of the 2014 draft.

Houston traded Davis to the Mets in 2019. His best season came in 2019, when as a 26-year-old he slashed .307/.369/.527 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI. But he hasn’t had more than six homers in a season since.

The Giants are hoping the Northern California native can regain his 2019 form and help the team make an unlikely run to the playoffs. San Francisco entered Thursday 4.5 games behind Philadelphia for the third and final wild card spot in the National League.

Davis recorded his first hit with the Giants in his debut Wednesday. He made a splash on Thursday, hitting an opposite-field home run off Clayton Kershaw out of the No. 5 spot in the lineup. He took a hanging changeup into “Levi’s Landing” above the 24-foot right-field wall, an area rarely reached by right-handed hitters. It was evidence of the immense power Davis had even in high school.

Davis played for longtime Elk Grove coach Jeff Carlson, who imparted lessons that Davis has carried with him to his third major league team.

“I’d say number one thing I learned from Carlson was just to keep your head up, keep working hard even if you’re on the bench. Don’t drag your blanket. Keep going at it and be a good teammate,” Davis said.

One of Carlson’s favorite memories of Davis was when he hit a pair of home runs in a must-win doubleheader Elk Grove had against Jesuit in games played at American River College. Davis was not only that team’s best hitter, but he was also the top pitcher.

“I remember he hit two home runs at (American River),” Carlson said. “ And I go, ‘This guy is at a different level than everybody else on this field. If he continues to do what he’s doing. He’s going to have a great chance to make the big leagues.’”

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