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Mo'Ne Davis story

August 15, 2014 - Chris Masse
By CHRIS MASSE cmasse@sungazette.com

Steve Bandura was driving the tractor around the infield following practice when he looked toward left field. There he saw an athlete throwing the football. He never had seen the person before but immediately was awed.

The athlete continued throwing perfect spirals from long distances to his players who had just finished baseball practice at the Marion Anderson Recreation Center. The Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation Director approached the athlete and the fortunes of that athlete, the Taney Youth Baseball Association and possibly female athletes nationwide changed right there. A hidden Philadelphia jewel had been discovered. Oh yeah, the athlete is a girl.

Mo'Ne Davis has become a national celebrity the last few weeks, dominating a series of opponents from the mound while helping her Taney Youth team reach the Little League World Series. Davis and Canadian pitcher Emma March are the 17th and 18th females to participate in the Series but Davis has entered with more publicity than any previous girl.

That is because she is the best female pitcher to ever reach South Williamsport. The rest of the world is learning what Bandura did that evening five years ago. Who cares if she is a girl? Davis can flat-out play.

"She's one of the top pitchers for her age level I've ever seen," Philadelphia manager Alex Rice said. "You're familiar with most of the kids in the city and I heard about her five years ago and saw her three years ago and it was obvious right away she was a very good ball player."

Davis has become the talk of the Series after throwing a three-hit complete-game shutout in the Mid-Atlantic championship over Newark, Del., a team that had four players back from last year's Series participant. Pitching on national television, Davis struck out six and capped a superb regional in which she went 2-0 with a save and struck out 17 in 12 2/3 innings.

Since then Davis has become a media darling and appeared on ESPN Monday, issuing a playful pitch-off challenge to Los Angeles Dodgers Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw accepted Tuesday and the media requests have continued pouring in.

In a flash, Davis has become the face of Little League Baseball and one of the country's most popular athletes. Not that she ever set out to do so.

"It (the attention) actually gets really annoying after a while because I just want to have fun," Davis said while sitting with March and former Little Leaguer and all-time Big 10 leading scorer Kelly Mazzante. "But then there are some serious interviews where people have to interview me so it's kind of fun knowing that a lot of people know your name. I enjoy it sometimes."

Nobody knew Davis would become a celebrity by age 12 five years ago. But they knew she was something special. Basketball actually is Davis's top sport and she played that against boys before playing baseball for Bandura the following spring. She began pitching soon after and seemed a natural. Bandura runs the Anderson Monarchs traveling sports program. He has coached Davis in basketball and baseball the past five years and was amazed when he watched her play baseball for the first time.

"We started working with the pitchers in January and at that point Mo'Ne had never even worn a baseball glove and never had two years of t-ball like the rest of the players," he said. "She comes up and pitches and just as the ball is leaving my hand I'm thinking she's never worn a glove and this is going to end up hitting her in the face. It's going toward her head and she just turns and picks it up and catches it back-handed. She's amazing."

Davis has been wowing opponents, coaches and fans on the court and the field ever since. She was one of the better middle school pitchers at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and likely will play on the varsity basketball team as an eighth-grader there next winter. Do not be surprised if she starts for the baseball team too.

Sometimes it takes seeing her play for others to believe it. Davis has to deal with the occasional player or team thinking she can't compete simply because she is a girl. That all changes when she starts striking them out.

The 5-foot-2 right-hander has terrific mechanics and her motion is smooth and nearly flawless. Nobody has figured her out yet and Davis threw 5 2/3 innings of two-hit baseball with 11 strikeouts in the District 19 championship when Philadelphia became the first non-Delaware County team to win the championship.

While others are stunned, those around Center City think this is the norm. She can not only do everything the boys can, Davis often does it better. She throws in the 68-70 mile per hour range, but Davis also has terrific movement on her pitches, runs the game well and is as smart and poised as she is talented.

"I don't think she wants the attention because she doesn't want to take away from the team. I think she wants to be recognized as a being a Little League Baseball player enjoying her friends and playing baseball," said Rhode Island manager Dave Belisle whose team became close with Philadelphia at regionals. "There are not too many girls that can play that well. She wants to be recognized as one of best Little League Baseball players in the world and she is."

She also is becoming a role model. The exposure Davis is receiving can only help young female athletes, especially those aspiring to be baseball players. She is showing why labels are unnecessary.

Davis is not trying to make a statement, but she is. Following in the footsteps of players like Victoria Ruelas (Brucker) she is blazing a trail for future athletes to continue breaking down barriers and show that baseball is not just for boys.

"There are small steps here and there. I would tell them (Davis and March) to keep playing ball because they might have a chance to try out for the national team some day," said Brucker, the first U.S. girl to play at the Series in 1989. "A few more colleges are accepting girls and they are playing ball and high schools are more open to girls playing ball. It's slow but it's coming about and this should help a lot."

"It's huge. It's not like they're here just pitching, just playing too," said Mazzante, who played in the Montoursville Little League in the 1990s. "They're here trying to hit a home run and trying to get no-hitters. The bar is set high and it's giving girls out there that option and showing what they can do."

Davis shines on and off the field. She is an honor roll student at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and excels despite having to make a daily 1 hour, 20-minute bus ride through Philadelphia to get there. She is smart and talented but the daily trip also proves Davis combines those qualities with a ferocious work ethic. No matter the situation, she wants to get better.

Davis wants to continue playing baseball through high school but her ultimate dreams are to play basketball at Connecticut and then in the WNBA. Do not bet against her either.

That is what some might be missing this week. Look how far Davis has come since that day at the Recreation Center. She went from an undiscovered 7-year old with no athletic experience to one of the city's premier athletes in any gender. Just think where she might go in a few years.

"We wouldn't be here without her. She's definitely one of the stars on the team," Rice said. "She's not just one of the 12, she's a very strong player and I think she can do anything she puts her mind to. "She's a special person."

 
 

Article Comments

(2)
Aug-21-14 8:54 PM

Today heard Mo'Ne say she plans on joining the UConn Huskies girls basketball team when she's older. I certainly hope that's true, and we UConn Alums and everyone in the Nutmeg state would very much welcome her!!

Aug-16-14 8:47 PM

That was a great piece, Chris! Better than the one in today's NY Daily News. You're a great writer. Thanks the story.

 
 

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