Mo'ne Davis trying to find some peace amid all the attention

Posted: August 20, 2014

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Two boys stood in line to use a Port-A-John when a golf cart puttered past.

One squealed, "There she is!"

His mother said, "Oh, look! It's Mo'ne! Mo'ne Davis!"

A few yards farther, a father asked, "Mo'ne, can you stop for a picture?"

"No," said the driver, before Mo'ne could answer. "We're late."

Davis was, in fact, late for the team dinner at a local chicken wing restaurant. Her Taney Dragons Little League team ate at the same chain during the regional tournament in Bristol, Conn., last week, and, well, baseball teams are superstitious.

No baseball team here is quite as famous.

Its walkoff win over Texas on Sunday night, combined with Mo'ne's shutout of Tennessee on Friday, has put Taney in a semifinal tomorrow against Las Vegas, and it has made the Dragons the absolute darlings of the Little League World Series.

Before practice yesterday afternoon, Eric Lipson, Jared Sprague-Lott and Scott Bandura spent 30 minutes posing for pictures and signing autographs between the two stadiums.

The boys are charismatic and cute, but none is more darling than Mo'ne, tomorrow night's starting pitcher. The adoration for her has reached a fever pitch.

"It is kind of creepy," Davis said during a rare quiet moment after practice.

It is surreal.

She is 13 and, a week ago, was relatively anonymous. Then, she threw a second straight shutout (she also dominated the regional final), waist-long braids flying and gray eyes flashing as her perfect mechanics dealt 70-mph fastballs. She is the first girl to win a game at the LLWS.

Now, 3 days later, she has to be shuttled around the grounds in her own golf cart.

She has her own press liaison.

Gov. Tom Corbett came to watch her pitch Friday, but she was, by far, more popular. No one asked for his autograph.

Sounds great, right? Well, fame has its price, even when you're 13.

"I can't go anywhere without people bothering me," Davis said. "I can't go watch the other games anymore."

She tried sneaking into the stadium to watch a game while wearing a hooded sweatshirt, but her look is iconic, so that ploy failed.

There is an upside, of course. Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, a Norristown native, called her yesterday. Davis is a superior basketball player and someday hopes to play for UConn, and, usually, she is an incessant yapper.

She was rendered nearly speechless during the call, said one observer.

With a win tomorrow, the spotlight will only intensify.

Representatives from Ellen DeGeneres' and Queen Latifah's shows have called Taney hoping for first dibs at the team, or Mo'ne, if they win it all Sunday.

Or, maybe even if they don't.

The story is pretty compelling, even if they don't win the title: a dozen Philly city kids of multiple races making noise at what traditionally is a showcase for the suburban elite.

Led here by a clever girl.

Her fame mattered not one bit during practice.

She had to don catcher's gear in 80-degree weather and squat for about 30 minutes to catch two of her teammates' bullpen sessions. She had bucket duty for the end of batting practice - she stood near second base and caught the batted balls being thrown back in from the outfield and put them in a bucket - and she was scolded by a coach when she sat down on the job.

Between the lines, she is just one of the boys.

During her turn at the plate, she managed to poke one over the practice-field fence, which elicited a wry, "Finally!" from shortstop Jack Rice.

"Right?" she agreed, clearly dismayed with her unremarkable hitting display recently.

Tai Shanahan hit the chopper that scored the winner from third with two outs Sunday. He batted in front of Mo'ne. Had he reached base and had the runner not scored, Mo'ne would have been up.

"All the pressure would have been on me," she said.

Her hands were clasped in front of her . . . in hopes of getting a pass?

"No," she said, and flashed a dazzling smile.

"I was praying I would get a last at-bat."

Williamsport might have imploded.

Anderson Cooper might have set up shop in the International Pavilion. As it is, Comcast SportsNet is expected to send a crew north and start broadcasting live tomorrow.

As it was, Mo'ne was relatively anonymous yesterday during the 90-minute practice. Meanwhile, the starting outfielders put on a power show: Carter Davis (no relation); then lanky Kai Cummings; then bullish Zion Spearman, the hitting hero in Sunday's comeback win.

Spearman hit at least 10 home runs, including one that one-hopped over a second fence about 60 feet beyond the regular fence in left-centerfield. The ball was not retrievable: It landed on the railroad tracks.

That bomb elicited exclamations from everyone watching - even the two Japanese coaches who had casually sauntered over from their practice field to watch Taney hit.

The practice, held in the most remote corner of the World Series grounds, returned the young stars to a degree of normalcy and helped them loosen up a bit.

Rice was knocked from Sunday's game after getting tagged in the head and cutting the inside of his mouth, but he participated fully. The left side of his face seemed generally unaffected; his cheeks might have been a little chubbier.

"I'm OK," he insisted.

"Oh, he was still hurting this morning," Sprague-Lott said.

"Yeah, at breakfast," Bandura said.

That pair held an impromptu court before the practice. Kid after kid asked the Taney team for autographs and to pose for pictures, 100 or more, but Sprague-Lott and Bandura seemed to get a disproportionate number of requests from a certain demographic. For instance:

"Go ahead!" urged a blonde with pigtails.

"No, you go!" replied her friend with brown hair and braces.

"OK! OK!," Pigtails said, then asked Sprague-Lott: "Can I get a picture with you?"

"Uh, sure," Sprague-Lott replied.

Braces motioned to Bandura, and he sidled over to pose with Pigtails, too.

The girls squealed as they walked away. Sprague-Lott rolled his eyes at Bandura.

They're getting a taste of Mo'ne's steady diet.

On that note, she shares her teammates' homesickness. They have been on the road for weeks to get here. She misses her bed, and home cooking, and her favorite basketball shoes.

It doesn't help that she and the other girl at the tournament, Emma March from Canada, must stay with a host family apart from their teammates. The separation of Mo'ne from her brothers in arms was never more apparent than at the end of practice:

As they posed for an unofficial team picture, she stood alone in the outfield, talking to a radio show back home in Philly. Clouds of insects swarmed all over the fields at dusk, lighting on her hat and her legs, as she watched her teammates escape in a bus.

She said she wasn't tired, then acknowledged she appreciated the 2 off days: "It's important to me. I've got to sleep."

She needs to be rested for Las Vegas, a team full of mashers that is unbeaten in eight LLWS games en route to semifinals, winning by an average of about 10-2.

She can't wait.

"Actually, I am totally looking forward to it. It'll make me better," she said. "It will make me hit my spots."

If she hits her spots, and if she wins again, it might take more than a golf cart to buffer her from her fame.

She might need Corbett's armored SUV. The Guv can have the golf cart.

Ticket update

In anticipation of larger than usual crowds, fans again will need tickets for tomorrow’s 7:30 p.m. start at Lamade Stadium. Tickets will be made available at will call beginning at noon tomorrow on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets are free, as usual, and no tickets will be required to sit on the grass hill beyond the outfield fence.

Tomorrow’s crowd is expected to exceed Sunday’s crowd, which numbered 32,148, among the top 10 crowds in Little League World Series history, LLWS officials said.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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