CINCINNATI — Three summers have almost passed since Mo’ne Davis threw herself into the national spotlight, those summers between 13 and 16 when innocence often flickers and vanishes like a firefly’s glow.
The familiar doe eyes and long braids that appeared on Sports Illustrated’s cover and seemingly everywhere else are unchanged from when she dominated the boys at the 2014 Little League World Series.
But she’s 16 now. Her fastball isn’t as overpowering. She’s the only soprano in the dugout. And, as with her male teammates who have grown taller and stronger, a cool swagger has supplanted the nervous energy of a 13-year-old.
“It’s a tough age,” said Steve Bandura, her manager then and now. “They’re all turning 16. But they’ve played together so long that they still have fun. No one is putting on any masks and trying to be what they’re not.”
Some things haven’t changed for Davis, as was evident when she threw two innings Tuesday morning when pool play began in the Junior RBI World Series. She’s still competitive, still cedes nothing to gender and still attracts attention.
When, ponytail askew, she walked to the mound at nearly empty Great American Ball Park, in the third inning of her Philadelphia team’s 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox, a cameraman followed her there. The rest of the photographers, who nearly outnumbered the few dozen fans, focused their lenses on her. And the Chicago players, six of whom had encountered her in Williamsport, rose from their seats in the Reds’ dugout and moved toward the rail for a closer look.
“That’s cool,” Davis said afterward of the attention. “At first, it was crazy, but it’s calmed down a lot. I don’t feel any pressure because of what I did back then.”
“Back then,” when she and her Taney Dragons were a feel-good phenomenon, seems like ages ago to the junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy who hopes to get her driver’s license soon.
“I started cleaning my room up last week and I found like a bunch of stuff from 2014 and 2015,” she said to the scrum of reporters who surrounded her just after a pair of seventh-inning doubles gave Chicago a walk-off victory.
“I found some awards and I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I ever won these.’ It made me sit back and be thankful for what I have. For Coach Steve teaching me the game of baseball.”
The Philadelphia team, which, in addition to Davis, includes six other ex-Taney Dragons — Scott Bandura, Jack Rice, Jared Sprague-Lott, Jahli Hendricks, Carter Davis, and Joe Richardson — was ahead, 3-1, in the fourth when Bandura brought in his star attraction, if no longer his star player.
Working quickly and confidently, Davis threw a scoreless fourth inning in her first performance from a big-league mound, then allowed two runs in the fifth.
“It was actually pretty cool,” she said of the experience. “I thought [home plate] would look a lot further. I think I did pretty well for a first time. I threw a lot of change-ups and curveballs. I knew my fastball wasn’t going to overpower anyone, so I tried to work on those pitches and keep them off balance.”
She allowed a single, a couple of hard-hit outs, walked two and didn’t strike out a batter. Still, she would have left with a lead if she hadn’t picked up a bunt and thrown the ball wildly into the base runner, allowing the tying run to score.
“Mo is still somebody I know I can bring in there at any time in a game,” Bandura said. “She was pitching to contact in a big ballpark. Like all the kids on this team, her baseball IQ is off the charts.”
In last weekend’s RBI regionals in Philadelphia, Davis won both games. And when the Philadelphia team captured a national tournament earlier this summer in South Carolina, she was again a celebrity.
“There were probably 100 teams there, lots of them much younger than our kids,” Bandura said. “When they saw Mo, they went absolutely crazy, crowding around her, asking for pictures and autographs.”
Although Davis said she hadn’t yet played against another female player in RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) competition, she said she planned to stick with baseball as long as possible.
“Probably until college,” she said.
She is also a basketball star at Springside Chestnut Hill — “the D-I scouts are circling,” Bandura said — although one no longer so determined to play at Connecticut.
“I think maybe I’d liked to play another style,” she explained. “Sometimes I like to pull the ball back and pass it around.”
And this year, she was the shortstop on the SCH softball team, leading the school to its first Inter-Ac League title.
“Now that I’ve played it, it’s a totally different mind-set,” she said of softball. “You’ve got to get used to the slappers [slap hitters] and everything. It’s crazy, but I had fun and we had a good young team.”
Bandura said Davis wanted the ball more than ever Tuesday after she found out Philadelphia’s opponent would be Chicago, which eliminated Taney, 5-4, at Williamsport three years ago.
The players exchanged good-natured, trash-talking texts all week.
“When they scored off me, they were talking, saying, `She’s nervous,’ ” Davis said of her opponents. “But I just stayed calm. I know they’re going to try to get in my head. I don’t let that bother me.”
And after the tough defeat, she shared the upbeat attitude of the boys she has played with for nearly a decade.
“We’re tight and I think we’re getting tighter,” she said. “They all played baseball together [in high school] and I kind of felt left out. But we know each other so well. And it’s so cool to see everyone grow up and mature.”