PHILADELPHIA — Mo’ne Davis was the talk of the sports world and beyond after becoming the first female to win a game in the Little League World Series. Her success has inspired other girls to pursue baseball, though no girls will be playing for the championship at Williamsport when the 16-team tournament starts Thursday.
“Females playing in the world series is a matter of luck,” said Stephen D. Keener, chief executive of Little League. Many teams compete for each of the spots and participation from girls is still relatively low.
Davis and her Taney Dragons won the Mid-Atlantic Regional last year and the teenager captivated fans with her performance on the mound. She tossed a two-hitter with eight strikeouts to help Philadelphia beat Nashville 4-0 in the series opener for both teams, becoming the only girl to get a shutout in series history.
That thrust Davis into the national spotlight and she became an overnight celebrity.
Davis appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was named The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. She wrote a book, starred in a Spike Lee-directed car commercial, became the subject of a Disney Channel movie and met President Barack Obama and his family at the White House.
“You want to always follow your dreams,” she said.
It’s no coincidence more girls were playing with the boys on baseball diamonds across the country this summer. Ellen Siegel, secretary of the Taney Youth Baseball Association, estimated a 20-25 percent increase in female participation, including softball where the league expanded to two age divisions.
“The other difference that I noticed was in coaches,” Siegel said. “They seemed much more eager to draft girls for their teams this season. And that I definitely attribute to Mo’ne.”
Little League won’t have final participation numbers for the entire program until later this fall.
“She got a lot of attention so there’s probably a lot of parents out there who looked at what she was doing and hoped their daughter would have that opportunity,” Kleener said.
Beyond her performance — she was the 18th girl to play in the Little League World Series and the sixth to get a hit — Davis impressed with her poise as her publicity soared. She threw out the first pitch in Game 4 of the World Series, played in the celebrity basketball game at NBA All-Star weekend and marched with her Taney Dragons teammates in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
“She’s always quick to point out that the attention she’s receiving wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for her teammates and that’s such a mature outlook for a kid her age,” Keener said. “Not a lot of kids show that maturity in the spotlight and scrutiny and she does it all the time.”
Her advice to others: “Be respectful, be calm and don’t let anything get to you.”
Davis, who turned 14 in June, pitched from regulation distance in a fall league last year and this summer. That made it tougher to dominate.
“She did well,” coach Steve Bandura said. “It’s a lot different from 60-feet, 6-inches. Nobody’s blowing the ball past anyone, but she threw strikes.”