TIME Little League World Series

Chicago Team Could Be First All African-American Squad to Win Little League World Series

LLWS Baseball
The Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team from Chicago participates in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Aug. 14, 2014. Gene J. Puskar—AP

Jackie Robinson West Is Shooting To Become First All African-American Team to Win Little League World Series

Updated 11:15 a.m. ET

Mo’ne Davis is gone from this year’s Little League World Series. So now let’s talk a bit about a kid named Pierce Jones.

In any other year, when a girl isn’t throwing the first shutout in the history of the Little League World Series, or when she’s not becoming the first Little Leaguer to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Jones’ name would be much more familiar. In the opening game for Jackie Robinson West Little League, hailing from Chicago’s South Side, Jones smacked three home runs and a triple. He led off another game with a long ball a few days later. Jones’ Jackie Robinson team defeated Davis’ Taney squad 6-5 on Thursday, to put the kids from the Windy City in the U.S. Championship Game on Saturday. They will face the undefeated Mountain Ridge team from Las Vegas.

Jackie Robinson is trying to make a little bit of baseball history too. If the Chicago squad can get by Las Vegas and win the championship game on Sunday, it would become the first all-African American team to win the Little League World Series. “I don’t know anyone here,” says Chicago White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams, “who hasn’t been watching them.” In fact, last Monday more than five times as many Chicagoans watched the Little League team on ESPN than watched the White Sox play the Baltimore Orioles on Comcast Sports Net.

The kids have given their city a nice psychic lift. “Unfortunately, we’ve woken up to bad news far too often,” says Williams. “Everyone is aware of the murder rate in Chicago, particularly in western and southern parts of the city. Yes, these things are happening, but there are so many superstar people in these communities doing so many positive things. People volunteering to help at-risk youth, kids playing and learning from sports. And these kids, playing baseball, have helped show this city in such a different light. They are changing perceptions.”

And they could give baseball a boost. “This is so great for baseball in so many different ways,” says Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. “It’s really been a thrill to watch.”

It’s no secret that the percentage of African-American players in the big leagues has drastically declined: 8.3% of players on this year’s opening day rosters were African-American. Back in 1975, 27% of all players were African-American. (Though one baseball researcher, Mark Amour, says the highest percentage of African-Americans in the major leagues was 19% in 1986; Amour argues the 1975 number included all dark-skinned players, including Latino-Americans.) Though a single Little League team can’t singlehandedly reverse this trend, “everything that has happened, having these kids play in prime-time on national television, and getting exposure in different media outlets, is surely raising awareness about baseball in African-American communities,” says New York Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson, who grew up in the Chicago area and donated $5 million to build a baseball stadium at his alma mater, the University of Illinois. Curtis Granderson Stadium also hosts events for 38 youth baseball organizations in the area. “It gets kids’ attention,” says Granderson, who is African-American. ”Wow, there’s an all-black baseball team? I haven’t seen that before.'”

Baseball’s fight for the attention of African-American athletes — and fans — faces serious hurdles. Travel baseball, which is more important than ever on the youth level, is prohibitively expensive, and doesn’t have the same level of grassroots investments — read, sneaker company — as a sport like basketball to offset some of these costs. Then, there’s the “cool/marketing factor,” as Granderson puts it. Granderson points to social media: LeBron James has 14.2 million Twitter followers. Dwayne Wade has 4.38 million. At cafeterias across the country, young African-Americans are talking about LeBron and D-Wade, not Clayton Kershaw (202,000 Twitter followers) and Mike Trout (520,000). So as kids start specializing in a single sport at younger and younger ages, African-Americans are bound to pick basketball or football, both of which offer a quicker, more glamorous path to the pros. Play a little college ball in front of millions, and skip all the bus rides in the minors, which weed out tons of prospects.

If African-Americans no longer feels a connection to baseball, “you’ve got to put a question mark on the game’s status as the national pastime,” says Granderson. “I’m just very excited for these Chicago kids, it’s been amazing how they’ve showcased their skills. And hopefully, the conversation about African-Americans and baseball continues, and some positives for our sport will come out of it.”

MONEY

WATCH: Memorabilia Vendors Are Already Profiting Off Mo’ne Davis

Little League star Mo'ne Davis pitcher her way into the national spotlight, and now memorabilia sellers are looking to make money off her autograph.

TIME Little League World Series

Mo’ne Davis’ Team Knocked Out of Little League World Series

The star pitchers run has come to an end

Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons lost to Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Thursday night, knocking the team out of the Little League World Series and marking an end to the headline-grabbing performance of the Dragons’ 13-year-old superstar pitcher, Mo’ne Davis.

Davis, one of just a handful of girls to compete in the Little League World Series, earned acclaim as a pitcher in the series for her 70 mph fastball and skilled curveball. Davis’ performance has sparked renewed debate regarding the way girls and women are treated in baseball and other sports.

She was unable to pitch in Thursday’s game against Chicago because she threw 55 pitches in Wednesday’s game against Mountain Ridge out of Las Vegas. Davis played first base for part of the Philly-Chicago matchup Friday.

Davis recently graced the front page of Sports Illustrated:

Sports Illustrated

 

[NJ.com]

TIME Baseball

Mo’ne Davis Helps Draw a Record Little League Viewership

Nearly 5 million viewers in all tuned in

Little League World Series’ sensation, 13-year-old Mo’ne Davis, may have got pulled during her game on Wednesday night, but the event did garner the largest viewership of a Little League game in ESPN’s history, says the Hollywood Reporter.

Despite the 8-1 loss by Davis’ Philadelphia team Taney Dragons to Las Vegas’ Mountain Ridge, the coverage drew a 3.1 rating, which, according to ESPN, was up 155% from last year’s viewership. In Philadelphia, 14.9% of homes tuned in on Wednesday, while 16.3% watched from their homes in Las Vegas. Nearly 5 million viewers in all tuned in for Wednesday night’s game.

Davis was catapulted to fame this summer as the first female in the history of the Little League World Series to pitch a shutout game. She landed a Sports Illustrated cover and a ton of fans.

However, her unfettered success took a turn when she was pulled in the third inning after allowing Las Vegas three runs on Wednesday. She was then unable to pitch against Chicago during Thursday night’s game (because of restrictions designed to prevent arm strain). And because Philadelphia lost 5-6, the possibility of her taking to the mound during a Saturday night rematch with Las Vegas was quashed.

Davis’ manager Alex Rice nonetheless has big hopes for the 13-year-old’s future. “The world’s her oyster, right?” Rice told the Associated Press after the Chicago loss on Thursday. “Mo’ne will figure out her future, and it’s going to be terrific.”

TIME Baseball

Little League Sensation Mo’ne Davis Pulled After Giving Up 3 Runs

Little League World Series - Nevada v Pennsylvania
Mo'ne Davis of Pennsylvania pitches during the first inning of the United States division game at the Little League World Series tournament on August 20, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Rob Carr/Getty Images

But don’t count her out just yet

Blame it on the pressure of the Little League series, an overnight media blitz or on the Sports Illustrated cover jinx: Mo’ne Davis, star of this year’s Little League World Series, was pulled from Wednesday’s game after allowing three runs against Las Vegas’ Mountain Ridge, ABC News reports.

In the end, Davis’ Taney Dragons suffered a crushing 8-1 blow. While Las Vegas advances to the championship finals, Pennsylvania’s Taney will have to beat Jackie Robinson West on Thursday in an elimination game that will determine who faces off against Las Vegas.

Davis became the first girl to throw a shut out in the Little League World Series and was the first Little League player ever to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ABC News said.

Superstitious fans are likely to blame Davis’ setback on the curse of the Sports Illustrated cover. Last week’s honor went to Ohio State’s Braxton Miller — but the university announced on Tuesday he’ll miss out on the upcoming season because of a shoulder injury. Tom Brady’s 2008 injury and 2012 loss to the New York Giants came just weeks after gracing the cover of the magazine.

Davis will be eligible to pitch on Saturday if her team advances to the final.

[ABC News]

TIME Baseball

Why Can’t Girls Play Baseball?

Mo'ne Davis
Philadelphia's Mo'ne Davis drives in a run with a single to right field off Pearland pitcher Clayton Broeder during the first inning of a baseball game at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. Gene J. Puskar—AP

Mo'ne Davis is the star of the Little League World Series. But odds are, she won't even play baseball in high school. Girls should have more opportunities to take part in the national pastime.

Be sure to watch Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old pitching sensation from Philadelphia who on Friday became the first girl to throw a shutout at the Little League World Series, while you can. Because if her baseball career follows that of most girls who love the sport, it will be over by high school.

For young girls playing sports like basketball, soccer, and lacrosse, there’s a traditional path to high school success: girls’ teams. In these sports, and others, athletes can even earn a college scholarship. But baseball, America’s pastime, is a strange exception. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is not aware of a single school-sponsored girls’ baseball team anywhere in the United States.

Sure, girls can play softball in high school and college. But while softball does have bats and bases and other similarities to baseball — consider it baseball’s close cousin — it’s a still a fundamentally different game.

“We’re fighting a culture that’s decided that softball is an equivalent sport to baseball,” says Justine Sigeal, founder of Baseball For All, a non-profit that provides opportunities for girls and women to play the sport. “If softball and baseball were equivalent, imagine changing [Major League Baseball] to softball. It’s a ridiculous idea.”

Siegal says there are 100,000 girls playing youth baseball. But according the most recent participation survey from the NHFS, only 1,259 girls played high school baseball during the 2012-2013 academic year — and all of them were competing against boys. “We know that 99,000 girls didn’t just lose their passion for playing baseball,” says Siegal. “Girls are not encouraged to play baseball. And if you tell a girl she’s not encouraged to play baseball, what else won’t she be encouraged to do?”

Just 0.27% of high school baseball players are girls, per NHFS data. Some of them do succeed against boys, and if an exceptional talent like Davis — who is slated to pitch on Wednesday night, in the U.S. semifinal — does decide to stick with the sport in high school, she certainly could keep thriving. But she’d be the exception. “So many girls are bullied off of teams,” says Siegal. “Sometimes it’s the players, but mostly it’s coaches and other parents doing the damage. Usually it’s the adults.”

Sarah Hudek, who just finished her junior year pitching for the varsity at George Ranch High School in Richmond, Texas, near Houston, get more stares than anything. “But I’m used to them now,” she says. “It used to bother me more when I was younger.” When she’s warming up at games, she can still see an occasional opponent laughing. “That just puts me in a good mindset,” says Hudek. “Get on the field with me, and see what you think after.”

On August 15, the lefty Hudek, whose best pitch is a change-up, announced a verbal commitment to play baseball at Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana. “I love watching the kids go back to the dugout after she gets them out, and seeing the ribbing they get,” says Greg Kobza, Hudek’s high school coach. “It gets in their head, and really gives us an advantage.”

Throughout their careers, female baseball players are asked when they are switching to softball. “The question is more obnoxious than it is hostile,” says Dean Dinnebeil, whose daughter, Sara Tobias, is entering Berkeley Carroll High School, in New York City, this fall. She plans to join the baseball team there. Though many girls enjoy softball, others just prefer baseball’s longer bases, bigger fields, and smaller ball. Pitchers in particular often don’t want to switch, since they’ve spent years mastering a skill set. “Throwing underhand is very different from throwing overhand,” says Sara, 14. “When I was younger, a lot of girls were switching to softball, but I liked Little League baseball, and the boys were nice to me. I saw no reason to switch.”

Imagine a basketball player spending her entire life learning how to shoot one way, and being told that if she wanted to play for her high school team, she’d have to learn to shoot underhand because that’s how the girl’s game is played. If she didn’t, she’d have to compete against the bigger, stronger boys, diminishing her odds of success. Sounds absurd. But that’s essentially the choice many baseball players have to make. “I tried pitching softball, and it felt terrible,” says Hudek. “I’m more at home on the mound. It’s my natural place.”

In baseball, girls do have a better chance at succeeding against boys than they would in, say, basketball or soccer, since baseball is much less physical than these other games. Sure, a girl is much less likely than a boy to smack a 450-foot home run or throw 90 miles-per-hour. But if a girl has good location and movement on her pitches, or can make solid contact, or has a good glove, she can still be effective on the baseball field.

And if girls really want to level the playing field, they can do what Chelsea Baker did — learn to throw a knuckleball. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 6’3,” 225-pound dude or a 5’4″, 125-lb gal like Baker, who is going into her senior year at Durant High School in Plant City, Florida: if you can make that slow ball flutter, you can get people out. Baker went 3-0 during her junior season, with a 0.74 ERA. In June, the Tampa Bay Rays invited her to throw batting practice before a game. She gave a couple of guys fits.

At Durant, Baker changes in the boys’ locker room, but has her own storage room–with her name on the door–to give her the appropriate privacy. “I walk out, and I’m right there with everybody,” says Baker. “Inside, I have a mirror and stuff with hangers. They set it up nice, I like it a lot. I have a lot more room with my stuff than they do.”

Yes, girls can compete with boys on the baseball field. Still, many players would prefer traditional opportunities in high school — on all-girls teams. “It’s kind of frustrating,” says Kelsie Whitmore, a center fielder and pitcher who will be a junior at Temecula (Calif.) Valley High School this year. She plans on playing for the varsity. “There are teams for different genders in every other sport, but not for baseball.”

“It would just be easier,” says Hudek, who changes in the softball locker room at George Ranch. “As much as they try to make you feel like one of the guys, you can’t really be. You miss out on the locker room bonding.”

If there were girls teams, however, these players would surely miss bothering the boys. “Sometimes you get these rude kids, they get to the plate, and you just know that they think I’m nothing, that it’s stupid that I’m out there,” says Baker, the knuckleballer. “And my catcher goes ‘shut up, dude, she’s going to strike out you out.’ And then I do it. That’s got to be the best feeling in the world.”

TIME

This Has Been the Greatest Start in Little League World Series History

Mo'ne Davis delivers in the first inning against Nashville, Tenn. during a baseball game in United States pool play at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Aug. 15, 2014.
Mo'ne Davis delivers in the first inning against Nashville, Tenn. during a baseball game in United States pool play at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Aug. 15, 2014. Gene J. Puskar—AP

Mo'ne Davis threw a complete-game shutout, Trey Hondras divulged that he talks to girls before games for good luck and we learned about a real person named "Cash Money"

You may not have been aware that one of summer’s great institutions, the Little League World Series, is now underway. It kicked off yesterday in Williamsport, Penn. (as always), and has already introduced us to a host of memorable pre-teen characters. First and foremost, there is this young man:

As you can see, his name is Trey Hondras, which is inarguably one of the greatest names to ever be named in human history. Trey Hondras is the sort of man you could imagine leading a cutting-edge biotech firm or winning the World Heavyweight Boxing championship or perhaps even leading an invasion of Mars if such a thing were to ever become necessary.

Equally important, we know that this particular Trey Hondras will undoubtedly live up to his name because his bio states the following: “Talks to girls before game for good luck.” This 12-year-old was going to be on national television for the first time in his life, and chose that as the way to introduce himself to the world. Not just that he talks to a girl before games for good luck, but girls, as in multiple. He is a man without fear and will certainly be leading all of us to intergalactic supremacy sometime in the next half-century.

Just when you were recovering from Thursday’s awesome name hangover, you’re hit with this gem during today’s Pennsylvania-Tennessee game:

Blake Money is a pretty great name, and he’s already pitching in the Little League World Series. Problem is that they also list his brothers’ names in his bio: “Mo’ Money” and “Lo’ Money.” And then there’s the final brother, and you can probably already guess how this story ends:

Not only is his name Cash Money, but this kid clearly knew he was going to be on national TV and came correct. Cash Money indeed. (Though I’d sort of rather prefer that this is just how he dresses every day, and when his parents ask him not to, he just looks at them and says, “C’mon, you had to know it would end like this.”)

Lastly and most crucially, however, there’s Mo’ne Davis, a 13-year-old girl pitching for the Pennsylvania-based Taney Dragons. She threw a complete-game shutout against Blake Money’s Tennessee squad, allowing just two hits and no walks while recording eight strikeouts.

In short, the Little League World Series is the best, even if there’s no way that the rest of the tournament can top the last 24 hours.

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