J.J. Davis, a former Major Leaguer who lives in Charlotte, appeared to have a bright future ahead of him on the baseball diamond when he was drafted with the 8th pick in the 1997 draft. Though Davis reached the Big Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals he never reached his potential as a player. After he was pushed out of professional baseball due to his attitude and character he made a series of bad decisions that led to his incarceration and transformation as a person.
Growing up in West Covina, California, Davis was a gifted athlete who played basketball, football, and baseball in high school. After briefly leaving the game of baseball behind during his sophomore year, Davis blossomed as a junior. During his senior year in high school, he batted .564 with 8 home runs and 35 intentional walks. His performance at a showcase with other future stars led to him being drafted by the Pirates and given a $1,675,000 signing bonus.
With newly found wealth and fame, Davis enjoyed his life to the fullest, which ended up being to his own detriment. While working his way up through the minors he drank alcohol, used drugs, and partied. Often, he exuded a “bad attitude” in the clubhouse with coaches and management. There was a period of time in which he faked injuries in order to avoid practice and play.
Davis spent a total of 9 seasons in professional baseball including the 1999 season with the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League. He was called up by the Pirates for parts of the 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons and was called up by the Washington Nationals during the 2005 season. Ultimately, his career ended with the Colorado Rockies organization in 2005.
“I went out on their terms because of my attitude,” Davis said. “My character was not in line with my talent. My character was flawed and I failed.”
A resident of Charlotte since 2000, Davis returned to the Queen City where he continued his partying ways. Davis aimed to earn money during his post-baseball life by selling drugs, but he ended up losing $250,000 dollars to unscrupulous dealers. In 2010, Davis was arrested as part of a drug trafficking network and was sentenced to 47 months in federal prison in 2012.
The federal prosecutor in Davis’ case vouched for Davis and asked the judge for a relatively lenient sentence that included time served in the Mecklenburg County Jail, according to Davis. Prior to his sentencing to federal prison Davis put his life in God’s hands which relieved him of his burdens and worries, Davis said.
Davis credits his time in federal prison with the transformation of his life. There he built a relationship with God, began to enjoy reading, and learned to be content with solitude and stillness. He also learned discipline and the ability to “deny myself what I want,” he said.
“Prison is the best thing that ever happened to me,’’ Davis said. “Going to prison is how I discovered myself. It changed my character.”
After being released from prison in 2015, Davis reunited with an old friend who helped him get into coaching. Today, Davis coaches teenage baseball players who have dreams of playing at the college level and beyond at Showcase Baseball Academy in Matthews.
For Davis, helping his players develop baseball skills is important, but he focuses on helping the players get into the right mindset. He teaches them how to keep their eyes on their goals and how to carry themselves as they strive to reach them. Davis believes that character is ultimately what determines how successful a baseball player or person will be.
“If your character does not match your talent level, I don’t care how good you are, you are not going to make it,” Davis said. “Character is going to do whatever it takes to get you where you want to be.”
Sean Gunby contributed to this story.