Goodman Shaffer: Davis is biggest story in Williamsport
In the great baseball movie “The Sandlot,” a rag-tag bunch of pre-teen friends get together every day to play pick-up baseball in the early 1960s. When confronted by a rival team, they unleash the ultimate little boy insult: “You play ball like a girl.”
Fast-forward to 2014 and the Little League World Series, where the biggest story of the tournament is a baseball-playing girl who’s making history on youth sport’s biggest stage.
Mo’ne Davis from Philadelphia has become the first girl to toss a shutout in the Little League World Series. In addition to her pitching prowess, she’s also done her part at the plate, recording hits and an RBI while picking up fans and followers galore.
Her Twitter feed reads like a who’s who in American pop culture; from Pirate All-Star Andrew McCutchen to First Lady Michelle Obama to Ellen DeGeneres, the shout-outs from celebrities, political figures and professional athletes is almost as amazing as this young lady herself.
The 13-year-old seems to be taking it all in stride. Telling ESPN over the weekend that she’d rather see the attention going to her team, she showed poise beyond her years. She seems quite unaffected by all the hype, while saying the biggest change has been her exploding popularity on social media. In that way, she is a typical teen after all.
Based on personal experience working in a male-dominated field, some of the questions she may be getting this week are: “How’s it feel to play baseball as a girl?” and “Do you actually like baseball?” There’s even been references to the “girl concept” in reports about Davis and her accomplishments.
She probably doesn’t know exactly how to answer those questions, having never actually played baseball as a boy. And quite likely, she loves it, or she wouldn’t have made it to the Little League World Series in the first place.
On one hand, it could be somewhat disheartening to hear reports of Davis’ achievements knowing that they will be qualified as a great performancefor a girl.
On the other hand, she is a welcome reminder that gender need not be an obstacle to accomplishments in athletics or in life. Little girls watching her play in Williamsport and around the world are getting the message: do what you love, and follow your dreams.
This storyline could stir the debate of whether or not girls should be allowed to play on boys’ teams in general, or only when a female equivalent is unavailable. Though the non-contact nature of baseball makes the co-ed teams more palpable to some than girls who want to play football or wrestle. (Davis is one of two girls in this year’s LLWS making a total of 18 girls to have played in the tournament.)
But instead, Davis, and her Canadian counterpart, Emma March, are breaking barriers and inspiring young athletes and many others.
The Little League World Series seems a fitting place for such barriers to be broken: a diamond where the language is baseball and skin color, eye shape, and even gender take a back seat to sportsmanship, teamwork and camaraderie.
Mo’ne Davis plays baseball like a girl…and she’s awesome.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears on Tuesdays.