This article was published before the Taney Dragons advanced to the Little League World Series on Sunday.
“I don’t throw like a girl,” my 7-year-old daughter uttered in late June, her tone full of sass. The haymaker of insults, whether on the grass and dirt of a baseball diamond or the hard asphalt of a schoolyard, has always been to tell someone they “throw like a girl.”
“I want to throw like Mo'Ne” is what my daughter and a dozen or so other little girls were overheard saying a month later while waiting in the victory line for a chance to high-five ace pitcher Mo'Ne Davis of the Taney Dragons after they defeated Collier Township of Allegheny County in the championship game of the Pennsylvania State Tournament of Little League Baseball.
The team from Taney, based out of Markward Playground in Center City Philadelphia, is comprised of a dozen 12- and 13-year-olds. They’re the “City Kids from Philly,” as they were frequently referred to by opposing-team parents during the Pennsylvania District 19 Tournament in Media, the Pennsylvania Section 8 Tournament in Pottstown, and especially during the Pennsylvania State Tournament in Skippack. These fun-loving, scrappy kids made headlines not only because “city kids aren’t supposed to play competitive baseball like that” but also because the heart and soul of the team is a girl — a girl with long, flowing braids that cover the surname and numbers on the back of her uniform.
Mo'Ne is an honor roll student entering eight grade at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Her fastball registers about 70 miles per hour on the radar gun; her curveball buckles the knees of opposing batters; her line-drives clear fences for home-runs.
Mo'Ne has played baseball with the Anderson Monarchs, a travel team based out of the Marion Anderson Recreational Center in South Philly, since the age of seven. “A lot of the time opposing players don’t realize it’s a girl; they assume it’s a boy with long hair,” says her longtime coach Steve Bandura. The initial shock of learning that kid with the crazy baseball skills is a girl quickly wears off according to Coach Bandura. After a game or two, the other kids just see her as a really good player.
The spectacle of watching Mo'Ne bat and pitch spread like wildfire during games at Skippack, with 9- and 10-year-old boys, sporting their own little league uniforms, sprinting behind the batting cage to check out “that girl” for each of her at bats and pitches.
Mo'Ne is just a kid — too young to be labeled as a role model. Heck, her favorite sport isn’t even baseball — her dream is to play point guard for the University of Connecticut. But to many little girls in Philadelphia who love playing baseball, the unassuming South Philly resident is someone they aspire to play like. Before and after games it’s typical to see her posing for pictures with young girls. After Taney’s Mid-Atlantic Regional semi-final game today in Bristol, CT, airing live on ESPN at 11 a.m., little girls from all over the country will run outside to have a catch, making pretend they are Mo'Ne as they fire the baseball (this past Sunday, in game 2 of the tournament, versus Newark National of Newark, DE, Mo'Ne struck out 10 batters in 5 2/3 innings).
Our daughter was one of two girls on her Taney baseball team this season (her friend Sarah was an All-Star selection!), which had just 16 girls out of 182 kids in the AAA division of 7- and 8-year-olds; she was one of five girls out of about 70 kids in her age group at Temple’s basketball camp in June; and she was the only girl at Penn Charter’s sports camp in July. To show our daughter that being a girl does not mean she cannot play baseball as good as, if not better than, the boys, I’ve driven her to a handful of Taney’s games this past month to watch Mo'Ne play ball.
The Taney Dragons are galvanizing Delaware Valley fans of Little League Baseball. As of today’s game they are just two wins from achieving the dream of kids worldwide – making it to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series. Mo'Ne Davis is leading the way — and she's doing it while throwing like a girl.
Marc Kravitz is a father/coach of two Taney Little League baseball players, a husband, and restaurant consultant. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.