A New Reality: How Modest Mo'ne Davis Is Adjusting To Fan Frenzy
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Wallie Arrezola was sitting in his Seminole, Texas, home last week watching Mo'ne Davis pitch her Taney baseball team to a regional title and into the Little League World Series when the 63-year-old retiree said he was suddenly inspired.
"I said, 'I have to see her for myself, see if she's for real. I've gotta go to Williamsport,'" he said.
And so he did, driving 1,800 miles by himself over four days, taking a seat down the right-field line on an overcast Friday afternoon, and settling in to watch the 13-year-old girl from Philadelphia with the 70 mile-per-hour fastball.
He was hardly alone.
Among the 15,648 fans at Howard J. Lamade Stadium was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who predicted Davis would someday play pro ball.
"That's very crazy," said Davis after her two-hit, eight-strikeout shutout led Taney, the Mid-Atlantic representatives, to a 4-0 victory over Nashville, the Southeast regional champs. "I didn't even expect that."
Not too crazy, apparently.
"If I do stay in baseball," she continued, "hopefully, I can be a professional pitcher."
If she does, she will already have won the approval of current pros; several weighed in via Twitter, including Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman. But the biggest thrill for the girl whose lifelong dream has been to play point guard for UConn was one from her idol, Kevin Durant, who tweeted: "This youngster is striking everybody out and she is a girl. I love it. #itsanewday"
"It means a lot, actually," Davis said.
Barely into her teens and not yet out of middle school, Davis said her Instagram followers have grown to 5,000-plus and she has achieved the true sign of celebrity status having already attracted a fake Twitter account.
"I think I'm just going to go public," she said of her Instagram account. "Then I won't have to accept all of them."
The idea of being a role model, much less a celebrity, is still dawning on Davis, who had little girls chanting her name, grown men holding up signs (one that said, "I Want to Throw Like a Girl") and teenage boys alike singing her praises Friday.
Daniel Plunkett, 16, of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, comes to the Little League World Series every year, he said, but seeing Davis this year was a bonus. Told that Davis will most likely play on the high school boys' varsity baseball team as an eighth-grader, Plunkett merely shrugged.
"As long as she's good and likes what she does, I don't see a problem with it," he said. "It'll be a challenge, but if she wants the challenge, go for it."
Ryan McNeill, 12, from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was impressed that Davis was so effective as a pitcher against some opponents who are much bigger and stronger. "She's better than most boys," he said. "And she's not a huge kid [at 5-foot-4, 105 pounds]. It's especially good she's sticking with it."
Arrezola, who said the Little League World Series "was on my bucket list," marveled at Davis' arm. "I've seen girls play, but never a pitcher," he said. "She puts other pitchers to shame."
Gary Kay, 67, a longtime Little League World Series volunteer, has seen other girls play in the tournament (though the last American was 10 years ago), but called Davis "the best, because she can do it all. I know she didn't hit today [she was 0-for-3 at the plate Friday], but I'll be very surprised if she doesn't hit a home run, because I've heard she hits it a mile.
"I think this is great for the Little League World Series and for the sport."
Davis called her role-model status "very unreal."
"I never thought at the age of 13 I'd be a role model," she said. "I always wanted to be a role model, but being a baseball role model is really cool."
She admitted she heard the cheers and saw the signs bearing her name.
"I saw a lot of them, but I couldn't really look, I couldn't stare at them because it would take me out of my game," she said. "But afterward, I gave people high-fives."
The crowd, in fact, surged at Davis and her teammates as they disembarked from the ESPN set in the middle of the stadium complex after their victory. The players were escorted by uniformed security to their postgame interviews, and the mob parted but did not stop taking pictures and calling out to the undisputed target of their affection, who seemed a bit awed by it all.
Priscilla Sands, president of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, where Davis will soon begin eighth grade, called the honor-roll student a natural leader even among older kids and said a big part of it is Davis' humor and down-to-earth nature.
That's Mo'ne. When we were all screaming before the game, she mouthed to us to be quiet so she could concentrate.Lakeisha McLean, Mo'ne Davis' mother
"The balance she walks is the loveliest thing," Sands said. "She doesn't say, 'This has nothing to do with me being a girl.' She understands she's a role model, but at the same time says, 'I'm as good as any boy.'"
After calmly mowing down the opposition Friday, completing the only shutout thrown by a girl in tournament history with another strikeout, Davis ran off the mound and through the gantlet of teammates and coaches almost shyly shrugging off their hugs and congratulations.
"That's Mo'ne," said her mother, Lakeisha McLean. "And when we were all screaming before the game, she mouthed to us to be quiet so she could concentrate."
Davis' stepfather, Mark Williams, said he was far more tense this past week than Davis was.
"But once we talked to her and saw that she wasn't nervous, then I wasn't," he said. "She's the calmest child I know."
Davis admitted she was "really nervous" before the game but calmed down following the first-inning, three-run home run nailed by teammate Jared Sprague-Lott. "After that, my nerves went away and I just went out there and had fun," she said.
Both the calm as well as the wild aura surrounding Davis' tournament debut unnerved her opponents from Nashville, their coach said.
"We've seen faster pitching and that stuff before," said Chris Mercado. "But it's a hard situation coming into a stadium with 20,000 people cheering for one player. They bought into the hype also, and that's kind of hard."
Taney's coach Alex Rice referred to Davis' "terrific mojo" but for Davis, it might have boiled down to the change in her back pocket, a reminder that the kid might be a rock star but she's still 13.
"Seven dollars and five cents," she giggled, explaining the superstition. "I always do well with money in my pocket, and if I ever get hungry, I know I can get something to eat."