Taney Dragons make Philly proud

Taney's Erik Lipson, left, raises his arms in triumph as he and his teammates take a victory lap around the field carrying the Eastern Division Championship Banner after defeating the Newark Nationals 8-0 Sunday night. the Philadlephia's Taney Little League plays against Newark National Little League, for the Eastern Regional Championship, and a trip to the Little league World Series, on August 10, 2014. 08/08/2014 ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Taney's Erik Lipson, left, raises his arms in triumph as he and his teammates take a victory lap around the field carrying the Eastern Division Championship Banner after defeating the Newark Nationals 8-0 Sunday night. the Philadlephia's Taney Little League plays against Newark National Little League, for the Eastern Regional Championship, and a trip to the Little league World Series, on August 10, 2014. 08/08/2014 ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Posted: August 15, 2014

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - The Phillies are in last place and hemorrhaging losses. Ryan Howard is hitting .219; Jimmy Rollins, .239. Cliff Lee is hurt, and Cole Hamels wants out.

Then, there is Taney.

The Sixers are a rebuilding embarrassment. The Flyers just re-signed Kimmo Timonen, who might have to retire with blood-clot issues. Even St. Nick Foles threw two interceptions in his preseason debut.

Then there are the Taney Dragons, a Little League program billowing the sails of Philadelphia sports while the rest of the region wallows in the doldrums.

A child shall lead them, indeed.

With a professionalism the four pro teams would do well to emulate, 11 boys and one girl have captured the hearts of a region starved for good sports news.

Taney, a multiethnic assemblage from diverse economic backgrounds, will play its first Little League World Series game at 3 o'clock this afternoon. Major League Baseball entities have latched on to the coattails of Taney, as well as the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago, claiming them as products of its initiative to reclaim urban youth to its breast, but the meat of both programs predates any of MLB's tangential interest. Taney spent part of yesterday afternoon watching the Chicago team demolish a Northwest team from Lynnwood, Wash.

Like their towns of origin, the Philly and Chicago teams were born of grit and dedication and deep wells of talent. The Chicago program is more than 40 years old, and the Taney Youth Baseball Association has fielded fine teams for 20 years, but was not a chartered Little League program until 2013.

So, yes, in its second chartered season, Taney might win it all.

Taney's story is more captivating, certainly, because its top pitcher is a girl, and because Hollywood seems to have cast the team.

Even the names are evocative; none more so than Mo'ne Davis, who, at 13, might actually be a better point guard and soccer midfielder than pitcher. She has almond eyes and long braids and a 1,000-megawatt smile that she mostly saves for other kids.

Her offensive counterbalance is Zion Spearman, who looks strong enough to bunt a ball over the 225-foot fences.

The players put on no airs, not even the top Dragons. They accept their rise to fame with matter-of-fact nonchalance. They are managed by an unassuming architect named Alex Rice, who has spent much of the past 2 weeks shepherding his flock through the Mid-Atlantic Regional and, as a result, through hundreds of interview requests.

He knows what his kids mean these days to Philly - and beyond.

So do the kids.

"I think they get that," Rice said. "Youth sports, with the proper perspective, is wonderful."

That's what Taney is:

Wonderful.

Wonderful, in a sports world where precious little else is.

In Cleveland, Johnny Football is fighting for his right to party. ESPN and USA Today are covering every messy Manziel moment.

In Washington, Daniel Snyder remains entrenched in a racist stance that would make Donald Sterling proud.

In Baltimore, Ray Rice was suspended two games for knocking out his future wife; he was caught on video dragging her inert form from an elevator. Little Leaguers get five games for fighting each other.

In New York, A-Rod, the closest thing to Ruth since Mays, is suspended for the season for chronically cheating with PEDs . . . but, thanks to contract and labor stipulations, this year still will take home almost $6 million of the more than $400 million he will earn in his career.

Oh, yeah: Derek Jeter is retiring.

Sigh.

Little wonder, then, Taney so fully warms so many hearts.

Look around. What else is there?

You can root for the Royals, but they probably will dissolve themselves when it's time for their stars to get paid.

There are the Seahawks, if you can endure Richard Sherman's apologists.

Look to golf, perhaps, and maybe cheer for Rory McIlroy, despite the fact that, in the past 3 years, he has dumped his primary sponsor, two managers and his fiancée.

It's easy to cheer for Taney.

The Dragons transcend the tragic complexities of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, of Jonathan Martin and Riley Cooper.

They don't care whether Brittney Griner's gay and, no, they wouldn't mind having Michael Sam on their football team; because, you see, nothing distracts them.

In America, there always will be a Ferguson, Mo., ready to burn itself down; there always will be a Sanford, Fla., and a George Zimmerman set free.

Just pray that there will always be a Taney in Williamsport, too.


" @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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