Just a few weeks ago, baseball fans in Philadelphia had little to cheer about, with the Phillies, so recently a repeat top contender, languishing in the National League East cellar. That all changed when the Taney Dragons, the hometown Little Leaguers, burst on the scene. A multi-racial and multi-talented team that electrified the city with their spirited play in the Little League World Series, it hardly matters that they didn’t make it all the way. They captured the imagination of the city—and the nation—thanks in large part (though not entirely, as there are many wonderfully talented players on the Taneys) to the awe-inspiring performance of Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old African-American girl who pitched a 4-0, no-walk, two-hit gem against Nashville on August 15. Striking out eight batters and getting herself into the record books in the process, Mo’ne became the first girl in Little League history to pitch a winning game in World Series competition, turning the expression “throws like a girl” on its head with her 70 mile-per-hour fastball (which translates to a 91 mile-per-hour fastball in the Bigs). The following Sunday, Mo’ne wasn’t pitching, due to pitching rest rules. No matter. She played third base and shortstop, drew a walk, and got a hit and an RBI, helping her team to a dramatic come-from-behind win. Some days later, she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the first Little Leaguer to do so. One could say that Mo’ne is getting all this attention because she is a girl (and an African-American girl at that) playing a sport dominated by males. Well, that’s partly true, of course, as Mo’ne is one of just eighteen girls ever to have competed in the 67-year history of the Little League World Series. But she wouldn’t be getting all the attention if she weren’t the fabulous athlete that she is.
As I cheered on the team, I watched Mo’ne with just a touch of nostalgia. When I was a young, I loved playing the game. The neighborhood kids would get together to play wiffle ball in the large backyard of a boy named Chucky. I played the outfield and, fast on my feet, could get to most fly balls. When it came time to bat, I would hit screeching line drives that few could catch. From time to time, some of the neighborhood dads would come to watch, and they’d shake their heads, almost as if wondering whether I was, in truth, really a boy. It was clear they found it hard to believe that such running, fielding, and hitting could be executed by a mere girl. But I never got the chance to play on a real team, as back then, there were no opportunities for girls to play softball or baseball. Baseball was my favorite sport by far, but I had to settle for playing volleyball and basketball. So, as I watched Mo’ne, I wondered what I might have achieved had I had the same opportunity to play. (The fact that a white girl growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s in a mostly white suburb of Philadelphia, lacked the same advantage as Mo’ne, an African-American girl currently growing up in the city, does show that we’ve made at least some progress.)
I wonder if we’ll see Mo’ne drafted by and then pitching for the Phillies eight or ten years down the line. And why not? Baseball, unlike football, is not a contact sport (well, expect for tagging players out), nor does it matter how much you weigh or how tall you are. What does matter is your speed, your hitting—and your pitching. It’s time to challenge the sex barrier in Major League baseball. If Mo’ne can play in the Little League World Series, why shouldn’t she pitch for the Phillies? Oh, but, I almost forgot: Mo’ne’s favorite sport is basketball, which she hopes to play professionally some day. Too bad, Phillies! You sure could use her help.