SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Fans have lined the grassy hills beyond the playing field at the Little World Series to see Mo’ne Davis. The concession stands have sold out of the powder-blue T-shirts of her Mid-Atlantic team.
With her long braids dangling over her shoulders on every pitch, the Philadelphia star is a captivating presence and has been in a league of her own on the baseball diamond — the first female to win a game, let alone a two-hit shutout, in series history.
Former Negro League star, 78-year-old Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, called the 13-year-old Davis “the best thing since food.”
And yet, in spite of her 70 mph fastball, baseball isn’t Davis’ best game.
Her basketball coach said she is even better on the hardwood.
“Coaching boys and girls in this age group for two decades, Mo’ne is just a special talent,” said Debra Brady, Davis’ basketball coach at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. “She’s a phenomenal pitcher, but I think her best sport is basketball. In a year or so, she will be doing the same unbelievable things in basketball. The first couple of games I coached her, she was head and shoulders above any kid I’ve ever coached at that age level.”
Steve Bandura, who works for the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, will never forget the first time he saw Davis. It was six years ago and she was tossing a football — spiral after spiral after spiral — after a fall-league baseball game.
“She was throwing the ball, tackling the boys,” Bandura said.
He introduced Davis to the Marian Anderson Recreation Center, which has an after-school program for young kids that includes both homework assistance and sports. They’ve been virtually inseparable since.
Bandura has coached nearly every one of Davis’s games with the Anderson Monarchs basketball club, and No. 11 rarely disappoints.
“She’s Steve Nash,” said Bandura, whose son is the catcher for the Philadelphia Little League team Davis plays on. “She sees the floor and analyzes better than all the high school kids. She’s amazing. She manipulates the defense to open passing lanes. She plays chess when everybody else is playing checkers.”
No surprise, then, that two years ago she was being recruited to play point guard on a boys’ team of 14-year-olds, her 90 percent free-throw accuracy an added bonus to go with a deadly crossover dribble that has sent defenders sprawling backward onto the floor trying to guard her.
Her school’s basketball team finished 11-3 last season, the three losses coincidentally coming in the three games she missed.
Despite her skills, Bandura said Davis is very humble.
“She came in after one game and I asked, ‘How’d you do?' ” Bandura said. “She said, ‘We won 41-37.'
'How many points did you score?'
'I don’t know.'
“I get a text later. She had 35,” Bandura said. “In another game she scored 10 points in the first two minutes and finished the game with 10 points. All she did was get her teammates the ball. She didn’t need to score more. But if it takes 35 points to win, she’ll do that. She embraces the team concept.”
Bandura said Davis is not the greatest athlete, she’s a good athlete but, “Her analytical skills are off the chart. She’s always the same on the outside, but inside she burns to compete.”
Bandura said he’ll hold Davis out of AAU basketball as long as he can because she still wants to play baseball, basketball and another sport she excels in — soccer. That is, when she’s not making the nearly hour and a half bus ride to school.
Davis, who is expected to pitch tonight against Las Vegas, has not shied from using her riveting success in a positive way. She sacrificed time with teammates to do a national television interview late Sunday night, and this week she’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
While Davis and her teammates have been inundated by the media, their next opponent has toiled in virtual anonymity. Las Vegas, the first Nevada team to make the Little League World Series, kind of likes it that way.
“It allows us to play our game,” said manager Ashton Cave, whose team has scored 25 runs in winning its first two games against Rapid City, S.D., and the all-black Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago. “We like to be the underdog.”
And facing a girl won’t be something new because there’s an all-star female pitcher in their league back home.