PHOENIX — Had anyone else said he was capable of stealing 75 or 80 bases this season, Rajai Davis(notes) might have offered a sarcastic thank you for setting expectations so astronomically high in 2010.
But because the belief came from Rickey Henderson, the Hall of Famer and the all-time stolen base leader?
Well, it was all Davis could do to smile and swell with some pride over the fact Rickey would say that.
"I thought that was very considerate of him," Davis said on Thursday morning. "I mean, how many people stole 80 last year? [None.] So for him to say that is one of the highest compliments I could receive."
It was a compliment of the highest order, indeed, but it was also one of the steepest bars that Henderson — who is coaching Davis and other A's baserunners this spring — could have set. The last player to steal 80 or more bases in a season was Henderson himself (with 93 in 1988) and there have only been 12 60+ seasons in the past decade. Jose Reyes came closest to 80 with 78 swipes in 2007 and Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) stole 70 in 2009.
R.J. Anderson of Fangraphs did some estimating and found that an 80-steal season for Davis might be a stretch — Rickey exaggerate? Never! — but it's worth noting that the outsized figure is indicative of what A's fans are expecting from Davis this year. The 29-year-old speedster received a career-high 432 plate appearances in 2009 and turned those looks into 53 attempts. He then walked away with 41 stolen bases for the season, earning him a chance for a regular outfield spot in the 2010 lineup.
"For me, it's just all about the opportunity," said Davis, who operates with a certain basestealing swagger of his own. "Because when you have opportunity, who knows what can happen? Anything can happen."
But for anything to happen, Davis must stay in the lineup. That means maintaining his health — Davis has missed games this week with a mild abdominal strain — and maintaining his worth with manager Bob Geren. The Athletics' outfield chart isn't very deep but with the addition of switch-hitting Coco Crisp(notes), there are some potential roadblocks if Davis starts to slump at the plate.
On getting in a pitcher's mind: "It's fun, actually, Especially when they start looking over and looking over. Then it's like 'OK, now they're concerned about me instead of the hitter.' It can be dangerous. It can be fun."
On preparing to steal off certain pitchers: "It's about getting his delivery in his mind. How does he deliver to home? How does he come over to first? ... I try and get an idea of what it looks like mentally so I can focus on one thing that will trigger me to either get going or get back to the base."
On what's entailed in that preparation: "It is a whole lot of repetition (while watching video), but it's also a combination of a lot of things. You have to look at him on video. You have to go out there and look at him on the field because he might be doing things a little different today. He might be feeling real good, he might be feeling not so good. Things can change from that video. You never know what to expect."
On his personal playing style: "I'm an entertainer. People come out here and pay to watch us. It's just who I am. I'm like that everywhere. It just comes, it's just natural. I don't try to do it, it's just part of my makeup ... If everything's the same, it gets boring."
'Duk is in Arizona this week to finish Big League Stew's Desert Drive. Ride shotgun with him on Twitter — @bigleaguestew.