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13-year-old pitcher Mo'ne Davis in spotlight at Little League World Series

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Mo'ne Davis strolled with her hands tucked into her back pockets as her team 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." Parents pointed to Davis and hollered "that's the girl." A young fan hopped into the team's line, aimed his phone, and snapped a selfie. "Girl power," shouted two women.

The star attraction in Taney's lineup just kept 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. today 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."

Mo'ne is expected to be the starting pitcher this afternoon when Taney becomes Philadelphia's first-ever team in the Little League World Series. Mo'ne 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." Mo'ne said her teammates' acceptance of her as a girl player "makes me cry."

"Just kidding," Mo'ne said. "I don't really feel anything."

Knowing Mo'ne

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 this afternoon.

"She needs to focus on the game," said Steve Bandura, who coaches Mo'ne 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.

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," Bandura said.

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.

A budding star

Bandura started to panic as soon as the ball left his hand. It was the first time Mo'ne had ever worn a baseball glove, and he 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 Mo'ne's 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 Mo'ne pitch about four years ago. He said you could tell immediately she was a good pitcher and "whoever she was facing had their hands filled."

Mo'ne 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.

"Just watching her, she dominated the game," he 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."

First was 30 years ago

Thirty years have passed since reserve outfielder Victoria Roche, an expat Little Leaguer on a team from Belgium, became the first girl to dig her cleats into the dirt at Williamsport. Seventeen girls have followed her to the Little League World Series, with the latest two set to take part in this year's competition. Mo'ne Davis is one. The other is Emma March of Vancouver, British Columbia, a first baseman-pitcher who often exhibits bright nail polish in games and whose twin brother, Evan, is her teammate.

13-year-old pitcher Mo'ne Davis in spotlight at Little League World Series 08/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 10:23pm]
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