Who’s That Girl? Little League Sensation Mo’Ne Davis!

AP Photo

Who Is She? Mo’Ne Davis, right-handed pitcher for the Taney Dragons, the Little League Mid-Atlantic champions.

Where Is She From? Philadelphia.

What Makes Her So Special? Well, she’s really good at baseball. On Friday, she got the save in Taney’s 6-5 regional semifinal win over Colonie, New York. Two days later, she threw a three-hit complete-game shutout in the final to send her team to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

A Girl Did That? Girls Play Youth Baseball at This Level? Sure they do. One of the other Mid-Atlantic semifinalists, perennial powerhouse Toms River, New Jersey, had a girl on its team as well. It’s rare, but not unheard of, for a girl to play in the Little League World Series. Seventeen girls, including six Americans, have played in the LLWS before.

What’s Her Game in 50 Words or Fewer? Power. Davis takes advantage of the high strike that gets called in Little League by throwing a fastball that sits in the upper 60s and can touch 70 mph. She offsets that with a nice off-the-table curve when she gets ahead in the count.

Did You Say 70 mph? Yes.

Is She, Like, a Mutant? Is She Secretly 17 Years Old? Nope. You’ll see some scary manchildren at the Little League World Series, but Davis is a pretty normal-looking kid. So yes, a 13-year-old girl who’s listed at 5-foot-4, 105 pounds, can pitch in the upper 60s for six innings.

How? I’m not sure. I will say that her mechanics are very refined for a 13-year-old. Most kids that age are all elbows and knees, but Davis’s delivery looks almost exactly like Jonathan Papelbon’s. The only difference is that she’s quicker with her leg kick, and she doesn’t take a minute and 40 seconds between pitches like Papelbon does. Her delivery is a little like El Duque Hernandez’s delivery, though she’s certainly too young to remember seeing him pitch.

So, Did This Come Out of Nowhere? Well, Sunday’s shutout was her best performance of the regional, but in three appearances in Bristol, she posted a 2.84 ERA and recorded 17 strikeouts against 14 baserunners in 12.2 innings. And she’s been playing against, and beating, boys in travel ball since she was 7 years old. If you’ve ever been to a U-12 baseball game, you know how hard it is for the kids to throw strikes. Little League baseball is often a game of six-pitch at-bats that almost always end in strikeouts or walks. Well, Davis goes up there and challenges her opponents — if the kid in the box is going to bring a bat, he might as well swing it. She gets a lot of whiffs (including a hilarious first-inning strikeout of Newark, Delaware’s 6-foot-1 first baseman Jack Hardcastle on Sunday), but she also pitches into a very solid Taney defense, inducing lots of pop-ups and ground balls that get turned into outs.

That Sounds Cool. Is She Having Fun? Well, she says she is, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. You can tell she’s from Center City Philadelphia, because she copied her delivery from Papelbon and her on-field demeanor from Chase Utley. I watched her last two regional appearances, and she might have smiled once in seven total innings. She’s got that Utleyesque expression of dour determination and self-confidence. She says her favorite ballplayer is Yasiel Puig, but she doesn’t display any of that joyful exuberance on the mound. Just concentration. It’s actually very cool to see from a kid her age.

Do You Think She Could Keep Playing Past Little League? Well, she says she wants to play basketball for UConn and go on to the WNBA, but that doesn’t mean her baseball career has to end here. There are girls who play varsity high school baseball, and there’s some precedent for a girl playing in the Little League World Series and then going on to greater success in another sport. In 1994, Minnesota’s Krissy Wendell became the first girl to start at catcher for a Little League World Series team, and she went on to captain the U.S. national hockey team and win two Olympic medals. So even if you don’t see Mo’Ne Davis in the 2019 MLB draft, you might see her in the 2020 Women’s Final Four.

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What About the Rest of This Team? Is She Dragging the Dragons to Williamsport? Well, someone must be, because while you can probably trick a kid from South Dakota into getting excited about going to Central Pennsylvania, the Taney kids know better; they’re aware of how bleak Pennsylvania gets west of the Schuylkill River. But in all seriousness, the next time Jonah Keri updates his BestCoolest Teams list, he needs to include the 2014 Taney Dragons. At this level, the best teams are the ones whose hitters don’t strike out a lot, whose pitchers don’t walk a lot of batters, and whose fielders don’t make that many errors. Taney does all of that. For as well as Davis pitched on Sunday, the seven boys playing behind her made a lot of plays that you wouldn’t expect 12- and 13-year-olds to routinely make.

On offense, the Dragons swing at the first fastball they see, and once they hit the ball, they keep running until they reach a base that’s got somebody standing on it already. Catcher Scott Bandura laid down two bunt singles on Sunday. Shortstop Jared Sprague-Lott hit .533/.550/1.067 at the regional, while third baseman Jack Rice, who looks about 9 years old, hit .412/.444/.706 with two doubles and a home run. Outfielder Zion Spearman, who by name alone will be a Bond villain when he grows up, has preposterous opposite-field power, and on Sunday scored on a delayed steal of home. Not only are they good, they look like any group of a dozen middle schoolers you’d see at a park off South Street, not the suburban Stepford Preteens who often advance through the U.S. bracket. I’m rooting for them, and not just because of my Mid-Atlantic homerism.

When Do Davis and the Dragons Play Next? Friday at 3 p.m. ET, against the Southeast champions from South Nashville, Tennessee. By Little League rules, Davis will have sufficiently recovered from the 80 pitches she threw on Sunday to start the Dragons’ opener.

Filed Under: Little League World Series, Little League, Who's That Guy, Who's That Girl?, Mo'Ne Davis, Taney Dragons, Philadelphia Sports, Michael Baumann

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Michael Baumann is a Grantland contributor and author of the upcoming book Philadelphia Phenoms: The Most Amazing Athletes to Play in the City of Brotherly Love, due in November 2014.

Archive @ mj_baumann