'Truly a village'

Posted: August 22, 2014

WILLIAMSPORT - Kai Cummings was just another fan at the Little League World Series last summer, one who happened to play a random game of catch with a star Little Leaguer, who later gave him his glove.

Cummings wore that glove in every Taney Dragons game he played over the last year, said his mother, Kim Smith.

"He had the best time for those three days," she recalled. "He said, 'Mom, I'm going to come back next year, but not as a spectator.' "

And so he did.

The first time Cummings changed that prized glove was when he received his own glove, here in Williamsport. Last night, he hit a home run during the Dragons' final game in the Little League World Series. Recently, the ballplayer and true Philadelphian told his mother that if the New York Mets were to draft him, he wouldn't go.

" 'Oh yes, you will,' " she said.

Although the Taney Dragons' run at the title is over after last night's 6-5 loss to Chicago, nothing will diminish the joy and pride that these kids gave themselves, their families and their city.

"They're resilient, God will give them peace and they will know that they are loved," said Smith, of North Philadelphia. "I always say, maybe the other team needed it more. We have a whole city waiting at home for us."

But what will it be like when Philadelphia's golden children return?

"That's a question you can't answer until it happens," said Bryant Simon, whose son, Eli, is a Taney Dragon. "What's it going to be like playing for 40 people in New Jersey without a golf cart to take them around?"

Gerry Davis, whose son, Carter, went from 200 Instagram followers to 3,000 during his time in Williamsport, said he thinks it will be good for the players to get back to reality.

"I've been going back and forth, and when you come here [to Williamsport] you do feel like it's this little bubble of pressure, so I think being in his own bed and seeing his dog will be good," Davis said. "And when he starts playing baseball in the fall, nobody will be asking him how he is or what he had for breakfast."

But first, there will be fanfare. Much fanfare. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who visited the Little League World Series complex yesterday, said after meeting with the team that he doesn't think they have any idea how popular they are in the city right now.

"I don't think they understand the magnitude of what it is they've been able to accomplish - for themselves and for the entire city of Philadelphia," Howard said. "When they get back, people should show them that praise. . . . Until then, it's good that they don't know, so that you just go out there and continue to focus on playing."

Soon, the newly minted sports stars will have to start focusing on Anne Frank, Malcolm X and John Steinbeck for their summer reading assignments with school less than two weeks away for most of them.

Cummings, who is 6 feet 1 with a size-13 shoe, will start seventh grade at Germantown Friends School, where his mom is a preschool teacher. Kim Smith said the Taney parents are one big family and that "bond will never be broken." She plans to go to Mo'ne Davis' basketball games and Eli Simon's graduation.

"We all take care of each other's children, we are truly a village," she said. "There's not one kid I wouldn't let stay over at my house. In fact, they can all come over all the time."

The players, who appeared somber and serious during much of their time in Williamsport, are harboring a deep secret, Smith said.

"You would never know these are the goofiest children alive," she said.

Silly, but serious: That's how Taney does it. When Howard visited the Dragons yesterday, player Zion Spearman - whom he called "my man" - challenged the Phillies slugger to a home-run derby.

"I had to stand my ground on him a little bit," Howard laughed. "I said, 'Where are we supposed to do this: At Citizens Bank Park or are we supposed to this at one of the fields over here?' He was like, 'I'll let my teammates decide.' "

Meeting the Dragons was a "breath of fresh air," Howard said.

"They're just 12-, 13-year-old kids being kids, that's the coolest part about it," he said. "With everything else that's going around with all the attention and that kind of stuff, they're still just kids going about being kids."

Smith said she hoped the Taney Dragons would be back to their goofy old selves within a half-hour of last night's loss and that they could put their amazing run into perspective.

"They came all the way, they fought hard and only two teams beat them, out of thousands," she said. "I hope they get past this moment to the bigger moment: They got to the Little League World Series."

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