Mo'ne Davis' success works 'to uplift us at a time of great sorrow'

Mo'ne Davis makes the big time: The pitcher from Philadelphia's Taney Dragons Little League team is on the cover of the Aug. 25 Sports Illustrated.
Mo'ne Davis makes the big time: The pitcher from Philadelphia's Taney Dragons Little League team is on the cover of the Aug. 25 Sports Illustrated.
Posted: August 20, 2014

In a week of heartache, Mo'ne Davis and the Taney Dragons gave the world heart.

You can tell: Davis, the hard-pitching, great-hitting member of the Dragons, will be on the cover of the Aug. 25 national issue of Sports Illustrated (, for goodness' sake.

Speaking for many, James B. Peterson, head of the department of Africana studies at Lehigh University, said, "We need this story right now, to uplift us at a time of great sorrow."

 And she was John Oliver's goo-goo-eyed opening monologue on Sunday night's Last Week Tonight on HBO, pitcher Davis and the Dragons were a rare feel-good story a grateful media world dandled like a twinkly bauble.

The rest of that world may finally be catching up to our local madness.

Much ink, real and virtual, has flowed to describe the Dragons, much flowing around Davis. She is the first female player to get this far into the Little League playoffs, and the first female African American player. Surely the first with shutouts and a 70 m.p.h. fastball, of which she is vocally proud. (A lot of fine social work is being done with the ironic remark that Davis "throws like a girl.") And surely she's the first to become as well known for her hair as for her pitching skills. In a New York Times article wonderfully titled "A Novelty No Longer," Mike Tierney marveled over this "showstopping pitcher whose flowing braids obscure her jersey name and number."

It's a story communicated through images of gender and race, images of a young, confident woman, braids flying, high-fiving, pitching shutouts, driving in runs.

"She has an effortless media savvy," says Peterson after a day at WHYY, talking on radio about the death of Michael Brown and unrest in his hometown of Ferguson, Mo. "Juxtaposed with the loss of Michael Brown's life, the emergence of Mo'ne is a great relief."

In his opening monologue, Oliver warned his audience that after a weary week of Israel-Hamas-Ebola-Ferguson, his show would treat some dark material.

But . . . Mo'ne Davis, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. As did Oliver. He used Davis/Taney as an antidote to the fear, anger, and hatred in the air - and as a comment on media themselves:

"In the world of sport, a new star emerged this week. I love this girl, but the best part of Mo'ne Davis is not that she happens to be female. It's that she also happens to be awesome. Waving her fingers after strikeouts . . . and displaying remarkable self-confidence."

Although often portrayed as modest, at least among her teammates, Davis can dish the TV athlete patois. On Friday she said, "I throw my curveball like [certifiably awesome L.A. Dodgers pitcher] Clayton Kershaw and my fastball like Mo'ne Davis." She's publicly challenged Kershaw to a pitch-off.

The smitten Oliver gushed:

"How is she that self-confident at 13 years old? I'm not that self-confident now and I have a TV show! But of all the wonderful things Mo'ne Davis did this week, this is my favorite. . . . "

Right after her historic 4-0 shutout of Tennessee on Friday, ESPN's Jaymee Sire asked Davis whether it was hard to handle all the sudden media attention.

"Not really," Davis said, all old-trouper equanimity. "I can always say no, so that's like my special weapon for the media."

Oliver went bonkers over these wise words:

"Mo'ne Davis is incredible. Saying no to dumb questions from the media is a special weapon everyone should use.

"Who are you wearing?" No.

"What do you think of the 2016 candid-" No.

"If you were a tree, what tree would you-" No! No! No! No! No!

Taney, first and foremost, is a local story, with folks watching Sunday night's 7-6 victory over Pearland East of Texas on TVs throughout the area - and on a big screen at City Hall. Tracking on Twitter suggests it's not nationwide quite yet. According to the tracking site, Twitter's mentions of the term Taney have, as you might expect, spiked for Dragon victories over the last week, hitting 10,000 tweets a day (high, but not nation- or world-class) but once, in Sunday night's stirring come-from-behind victory.

According to the site, in the Philadelphia region as of Monday afternoon, five of the leading six hashtags concerned Little League baseball: #Philly, #Davis, #Taneydragons, #Taney, #Taneybaseball, and #Mone. Other trenders included #Believeindragons and #Zion, the last for Zion Spearman, stalwart Taney batsman.

Perhaps most important: On Topsy's sentiment score, which measures the association of terms with other positive or negative terms, Taney scores a sky-high 91. Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tweeted: "How about those Taney Dragons! I see you!" So did many other prominent locals, and they better had, or else.

But there's national love now as well. There's all that ink. And according to, Philadelphia tied with Los Angeles for the greatest number of area-related trending topics from Sunday to Monday. National boldfacers have joined in: Michelle Obama, TV boldfacers Ellen DeGeneres and Diane Sawyer, basketballer Kevin Durant, and tennis great Billie Jean King. And, yes, Kershaw.

Peterson sees a heartening message in this media story. At a time when, elsewhere in the country, race relations are still in turmoil, Davis "radically presents you with the promise of black life and a powerful indication of progress," he says. "With her sense of herself as being able to do anything, and her capacity for greatness, it's inspiring. What's beautiful is you can see it in her words, the way she winds up, the way she moves on the baseball field. I'm trying to figure out a way to get my family and me out to Williamsport for Wednesday's game."


Complete Taney coverage online at

215-854-4406 @jtimpane

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