SURPRISE, Ariz. — If.
The conjunction has existed for a millennium, and over those centuries few words have become as essential. It communicates conditionality, its function so vital to our understanding of cause and effect that it’s been incorporated into computer programming languages. By at least one accounting, if has been used more frequently throughout history than all but 52 words in the English tongue. Henry Davis, though, has absolutely no use for it.
“It’s the funniest thing,” the Pirates prospect says, leaning back into an office chair in a Surprise Stadium conference room last week. “Everybody says, ‘If we win a World Series …’” The passivity of that phrasing bothers him. It’s a subtle abdication of responsibility, awarding too much influence to chance and not nearly enough to hard work. You can traffic in if statements, hoping for some desired outcome, or you can make it happen yourself.
The 23-year-old Davis certainly has made a lot happen. The catcher has gone from lightly recruited high schooler to collegiate standout to No. 1 draft pick and top prospect, and he’s done it by manifesting his own destiny. He is not insane — he knows he is fortunate to be strong and broad-shouldered, built with square dimensions like a 6-foot-2 and 210-pound Lego figure, and he knows that nothing in baseball is guaranteed — but acknowledging luck doesn’t help him get better. So, he says when and not if, implicitly throwing a gauntlet at his own feet. After all, if he controls his fate and it doesn’t materialize, there’s no one else to blame.
A little more than a year into his professional career with the Pirates, Davis already has minted a reputation for himself as an elite worker. He rarely lounges at his locker before a game.