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Softball: Denny 'Doc' Davis among local Minnesota hall of fame inductees

Former second baseman is joined by fellow Duluthians David Meyer and Billy Olson and Cloquet’s Mike Forrest.

Denny Davis.jpg
A photo collage reminiscing on Denny “Doc” Davis’ time playing high-level fastpitch softball in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a current photo of Davis, of Duluth. One of Davis’ highlights included getting to meet softball legend Ty Stofflet, who notched over 1,500 wins to less than 300 losses, with 650 shutouts, 172 no-hitters, 500 one-hitters and 58 perfect games.
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Denny “Doc” Davis never made a varsity team while going to Duluth Denfeld, a fact many would find hard to believe seeing how accomplished he became as an athlete after graduating in 1968.

“I was, whatever you call it, a late bloomer,” Davis said.

Better late than never.

Davis, along with fellow Duluthians David Meyer and Billy Olson, and Cloquet’s Mike Forrest, will be inducted as part of the 32nd Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame Banquet Saturday, Oct. 29, at Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota. The hall biennially recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of softball, and this year 22 individuals were selected.

According to the Minnesota Sports Federation, softball is the largest adult and youth team participant sport in Minnesota and the nation with more than 4,000 teams participating.

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“It really is an honor to me. For some people, maybe it wouldn’t be,” said Davis, 72, who resides in Gary-New Duluth with Linda, his wife of 52 years. “I’m very humbled and honored. It’s a big deal; it’s a great honor.”

Davis, who played fastpitch softball in the 1970s and 1980s with Twins Bar and Rustic Bar, isn’t one to talk about himself but he had no trouble talking about the other inductees. Competitors on the field, they were friends off of it.

Meyer, whose part of the induction was listed representing Harris, Minneapolis and Duluth, played for Stewart-Taylor Printing for many years.

“He was a very good pitcher,” Davis said. “He was one of the first guys to throw a change/riseball, which was really tough to hit. He would throw his fastball and then he’d follow it up with this change-riseball that he developed and that was the pitch of the time there for a while.”

Meyer was good buddies and teammates with Olson, and outfielder and pitcher for Stewart-Taylor Printing.

“Billy was a great, great hitter,” Davis said. “He pitched a little bit but wasn’t known as a pitcher; that was more like a hobby, but he was a great outfielder. He was a left-handed hitter and was a very tough out.”

Forrest is being inducted as player/umpire. Davis didn’t know him very well but knew him well enough to know he was “very, very talented.”

Davis, meanwhile, played second base. He was a good fielder and hitter, batting about .300 and hitting with power, often reaching double digits in home runs.

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Just the buildup to the hall of fame induction has brought back wonderful memories for Davis.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I was lucky to be on very good teams that won state tournaments and went to the nationals. It was fun. I just liked the competitiveness of it. It was a lot of fun.”

Davis said the turning point for him as an athlete was his senior year of high school, when he said he grew about a foot and packed on 20 pounds.

“I played all the sports growing up, but when I tried football, I got broken ribs trying to tackle people,” Davis said. “I was still small.”

Davis played at about 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. It was a glorious era not just for fastpitch in the Twin Ports but across the nation. So big, in fact, that the News Tribune used to send a reporter on the road with them whenever they qualified for a national tournament.

Davis’ league was at Wheeler League but back in the heyday, there were big tournaments in Silver Bay, in Superior and on the Iron Range. It was around this time where he got the nickname “Doc.” He doesn’t remember exactly how he got it, saying it likely evolved as a shortened form of “doctor,” but at any rate, it stuck.

Among the highlights was when the entire team got picked in the 1980s to go to the World Tournament of Fastpitch in Edmonton, Alberta.

“You’d hang around the ballyard, BS and have a beer,” Davis recalled. “The biggest thrill was going to elite tournaments every weekend. Our teams would go to the best tournaments around and there was nothing better than getting into the championship game on a Sunday night in some different town, like Hutchinson (Minn.), and a lot of people watching. That was just the most fun I can imagine.”

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Davis said he doesn’t follow fastpitch that close anymore because there aren’t any local fastpitch leagues that he’s aware of. It saddened him to hear that the last league up in Woodland didn’t have umpires toward the end and teams were calling their own games.

Certainly not like when he played, when high-level rec leagues were the norm.

Davis was teammates with Joe Sinnott of Duluth.

“We were good buddies,” Sinnott said. “We also played touch football together for a lot of years. We were state champions like 13 times and we won the nationals in touch football in 1985. I played quarterback and Denny played wide receiver. He was my main target most of the time.”

Sinnott, a catcher, was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame in 2001.

For Davis, it took just a little bit longer, a lot longer, actually, but it was worth the wait.

“Denny was a good second baseman, and we had great teams. We were always No. 1 in Duluth, pretty much, and we played in tournaments almost every weekend, every summer.

“It was unfortunate Denny didn’t get in quite a few years ago. I don’t know exactly how they run stuff down there but he’s very deserving of it. He was a very good player.”

But in this case, it’s almost rather fitting … a late induction for a late bloomer.

32ND MINNESOTA SOFTBALL HALL OF FAME
What: 22 inductees to be enshrined at the banquet
When: Saturday, Oct. 29
Where: Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota.
Note: Wayne Eddy, former president of KYMN Radio, Northfield, Minnesota, and a Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame inductee, will emcee the event.

Related Topics: DULUTHSOFTBALL
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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