The most accomplished female athlete Philadelphia has ever produced was back in the city this weekend, witnessing Taney Fever firsthand. How could Dawn Staley miss it?
"It's amazing," Staley, still in town, said over the phone Monday morning. "I was at Fairmount Park watching my brother play softball yesterday; I sat back and listened to conversations."
She meant the ones about the Taney Dragons Little League team and pitcher Mo'ne Davis.
"They were breaking it down," Staley said. "One guy said, 'She's only got a fastball.' Another guy chimed in, 'No, she's got three pitches. She's got a curveball, a slider.' I was getting the skinny on Mo'ne. And these were older guys, who grew up on Philly sports."
Staley said she didn't get a chance to see Sunday's Little League World Series game. But she had watched Davis pitch earlier and is following everything closely, tweeting her support. (She also retweeted when I pointed out over the weekend that Staley herself hadn't been on the front pages of papers in Philly and New York on the same day.)
Asked about similarities she sees with Davis, Staley can't help but reflect back.
"When I was growing up at Raymond Rosen housing projects and [at the rec center at] 25th and Diamond, I was the only girl playing the same sports she was playing," Staley said.
She can remember how that went initially.
"The first couple of times, I wasn't able to play," Staley said. "You keep coming. You're persistent. Guys think you have an ulterior motive. Obviously, their girlfriends thought the same thing. I think Mo'ne has a tremendous amount of persistence."
And, she said, Davis is the personification of an important sports message.
"When it boils down to it, it's just baseball," Staley said. "We need to really look at it like that. It's just baseball. Anybody who picks up a ball is just playing. That ball, it doesn't have a gender to it. Her fastball doesn't look like any different than if a guy threw it."
Well, it usually looks better. But the point is made. Yes, Staley noticed some blockhead on a national television network asking Davis about why she plays baseball instead of a girls' sport such as soccer. (The women on the '99 women's World Cup team must have really shaken their heads at that one, since they occasionally heard similar questions when they began.)
"This has been going on for years," Staley said. "It's a shame she still has to answer those types of questions."
Another reason Taney is an important story, not just a good story, is that it represents the city, with players from the city. That goes beyond gender, but seeing the success Davis has had, Staley can't help but wonder how many other girls there are in the city who can achieve through sports but aren't in the spotlight, or in the mix at all.
"If Mo'ne wasn't playing in Williamsport, we would know nothing more about her," Staley said. "She has a platform. There are a lot of girls out there . . . they are diamonds in the rough."
Not everybody can do what Davis can do with a baseball, or what Staley did with a basketball. Now the women's basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, a former coach at Temple, and current U-18 national team coach, Staley was the point guard for three USA Olympic teams and won three gold medals.
What will be the challenges the Taney players will face upon reentry into the world? Staley didn't look at the hype, just the competition.
"They have to continue to have a certain hunger about winning, about competing," Staley said. "It should push them back on the field."
And, sounding like a coach, Staley added, "The discipline it took for them to get to the Little League World Series is the discipline they need to apply to every area of their life, from academics, everything. That's something a lot of athletes don't do. That's what I do, tap into something - the discipline, the competition. If you're not good at math, tap into that competition, compete at math."
Even the Texas pitcher who was seen crying on the mound Sunday night, Staley said, "he's going to push through. He's going to be successful. He has experiences to look back on."
And if that experience includes losing, she said, "it takes that."
Davis was asked Monday if she knew who Dawn Staley was. "Yeah, I think I've heard of him," Davis said.
What do you expect? Mo'ne was 3 when Staley won her last gold medal.
Staley has noticed that Davis, just turned 13, not yet in high school at Springside-Chestnut Hill, has listed basketball as her main sport.
"I have to be careful - she is a recruitable athlete," Staley said, laughing.
But, yes, when asked, the coach acknowledged she has noticed that Davis has listed a university a few states north of Pennsylvania as her goal for a college destination and a place to play basketball.
"Yeah, yeah," Staley said. "I saw some articles where she just skipped over us."