SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Mo’ne Davis strolled with her hands tucked into her back pockets as Taney made its way down the steep stairs leading to Thursday morning’s opening ceremonies at the Little League World Series.
A grounds crew member at the base of the steps shouted “Mo-nayyyy.” The Chicago team’s parents pointed to Davis and hollered “that’s the girl.” A young fan hopped into Taney’s line, aimed his phone, and snapped a selfie. “Girl power,” shouted two women.
Taney’s star attraction just kept on walking. A night earlier she wrote on Instagram “I understand I’m a girl player, but if it wasn’t for my team I wouldn’t be here right now.” The eyes of the world showcase are fixed on the 13-year-old girl from South Philadelphia as Taney plays South Nashville at 3 p.m. Friday in its World Series opener.
And she could not be playing the role any cooler.
“It’s not that big of a deal to us,” said outfielder Kai Cummings. “To everyone else it’s like ‘oh my god, this girl phenom plays baseball just as well as the guys.’ But for us, she’s just a girl that plays on the team.”
Davis is expected to be the starting pitcher on Friday afternoon when Taney becomes Philadelphia’s first-ever team in the Little League World Series. Davis will be the 18th girl to play in the Little League World Series. Tai Shanahan, one of the team’s outfielders, said she “is one of the guys that just happens to be a girl.” Davis said her teammates’ acceptance of her as a girl player “makes me cry.”
“Just kidding,” Davis said. “I don’t really feel anything.”
Around adults especially, she is self-contained, at a slight remove. Whether this reserve is out of caution, shyness, or her natural yogic mindfulness, it has helped her cope with the onslaught of attention.
Still, her coaches have decided enough is enough.
After the parade Wednesday night, they said they were declining any more media interviews until at least until Friday afternoon.
“She needs to focus on the game,” said Steve Bandura, who coaches Davis at the Anderson Monarchs.
Trying to explain why, in 2014, it is news that a girl can be a great student and a great athlete, Bandura said, “It’s the whole package. It’s her looks. This is an inner-city African American girl throwing as hard as any boy. It’s just one of those things that goes viral.”
For years, Bandura said, he had been trying to draw attention to the Monarchs, the Philadelphia baseball team that feeds Taney, and where Mo’ne started playing.
“I’ve been trying to sell this story for six years,” he said. “Now everyone wants to buy it at once!”
It is to Mo’ne’s great credit, he said, that she is handling her celebrity with such composure.
He recently received a message from a friend who is a psychologist asking, “Is this too much for Mo?”
Bandura laughed. Of all the team members, he said, “she’s the one I’m least worried about.”
While she has treated most of the media attention with a gracious equivalent of her let’s-do-this shoulder shrug she executes before each pitch — she is not completely immune to the effects of her stardom.
“She loves the tweets from people like Magic Johnson,” said Bandura.
And after she challenged Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw to a pitch-off, he sent her back a video: “He told her that the next time she’s in L.A., he would take her up on it.”
That, Bandura said, really thrilled her.
At the parade Wednesday night, Mo’ne and her teammates rode on a massive float, catching baseballs from the crowd, autographing them, and tossing them back to their admirers.
She was the only Taney player named by the announcer, who sometimes mangled her name, and called her a “little lady,” but repeatedly anointed her as a role model for other little girls.
That, Bandura said, she certainly is — but not just because she’s beating boys in the game.
Mo’ne has to ride an hour and 20 minutes on the bus each way to from her home in South Philadelphia to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Chestnut Hill, where she has been given a generous scholarship and received an award for academic achievement.
“She is the leader without trying,” Bandura said.
A BUDDING STAR
Bandura started to panic as soon as the ball left his hand. It was the first time Davis had ever worn a baseball glove and Bandura tossed her a throw without thinking.
“Most kids that never wore a glove before don’t know how to use it. They turn it down and then the ball hits them in their face,” Bandura said. “But she caught the ball on the backhand like it was nothing, like she had been doing it forever.”
Bandura first saw Davis’ talent when he watched her play football with older boys. The girl threw perfect spirals and tackled just as well. She did not come to the Monarchs until she was 7, which meant she missed out on two years of T-ball. Bandura said it took her about a year to develop into a steady pitcher as she started to throw consistent strikes.
Taney manager Alex Rice said he first saw Davis pitch about four years ago at the Monarchs’ field behind the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in Graduate Hospital. He said you could tell immediately that she was a good pitcher and “whoever she was facing had their hands filled.”
Davis helped Taney cruise through the Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament, allowing no runs on three hits and striking out six in the championship game. Rice said it is her mental aptitude that sets her apart. Davis does not think about the game like a Little Leaguer, he said.
“Just watching her, she dominated the game,” Rice said. “She’s very level, cool, poised. You won’t see her fall apart on the mound, you can’t get to her. She’s the leader.”
The team spent the afternoon of its final day off before the start of the tournament just like it had the past two: inside the center’s batting cages. Davis wore a Chase Utley T-shirt and the team watched a video on Wednesday of Utley and his Phillies teammates congratulating Taney. At the end, Jimmy Rollins gave Davis a shout out and told her to “do your thing girl. Represent.”
The batting session came to a close after an hour and the Taney players started to trek back toward their dorms. But first a teenage boy asked Davis for a picture and passed his camera to his dad. Taney’s pitcher was a star again, but to her team she’s just one of the guys.