I’m sure a lot of folks remember Mo’ne Davis, who, in 2014 became the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series and was also the first African-American girl to play in the LLWS. “Throw like a girl” memes exploded, except now, the phrase was a compliment. Davis went on to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, she won the Best Breakthrough Athlete ESPY, and Time magazine named her one of The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014, among other honors.
— Little League (@LittleLeague) December 1, 2014
Fast forward six years, and it turns out that Mo’ne Davis is still playing ball. This spring, Davis is a freshman at Hampton University, making her NCAA Division I softball debut on February 8, 2020. She’s not pitching anymore, but rather has become a middle infielder. In her debut, Davis started at second base and went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs.
As of this post, Davis has a .333 batting average with 8 RBIs and 5 stolen bases through nineteen games.
Davis’s decision to attend Hampton, an historically black school, comes in part due to the aftermath of her LLWS successes. Following the tournament, Davis had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Then in 2015, she took a twenty-three-day Civil Rights barnstorming trip to the South with her Philadelphia youth baseball team, the Anderson Monarchs. The team had the opportunity to travel in a 1947 black-and-white Flxible Clipper bus, the same type of vehicle Negro League players traveled in. They also met with civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, who had marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. After attending predominantly white schools from elementary through high schools, Davis decided to take the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of African-Americans who went before her.
When I heard about the passing of Yordano Ventura, at first I wasn’t sure the headline I saw was accurate or true. A quick Google search proved that it was, and my emotions ran from disbelief to shock, then quickly to sadness. Obviously, I didn’t know Ventura personally, never met him in person, and had he opted to do something with his life other than play baseball, would likely never have heard of him. Even knowing all this, upon reading the news of his death, I couldn’t help but feel a genuine sense of loss. After all, I had watched this young man pitch through some of the best seasons I’ve had the privilege to watch as a Royals fan. In spite of his temper (or maybe because of it), he was a fan favorite in Kansas City, and many of his fans continue to grieve as the week goes on.
It’s one of those events that gets me thinking about baseball, about sports in general, and its role in our world. When the Chicago Cubs visited the White House last week, Barack Obama commented, “Throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together even when the country is divided.” The fact that baseball’s popularity grew exponentially following the American Civil War is a testament to this. During both World War I and World War II, baseball became a form of entertainment that provided Americans a much-needed escape from the realities of being a nation at war. Jackie Robinson’s journey into the history books shows that baseball can even impact the social climate of our country.
For me, personally, the world of sports continues to provide a sense of balance and purpose to my day-to-day life. I am a notoriously active person, which helps to offset the forty-plus hours a week I spend sitting at a desk at work. I love the competition of running road races, the challenge of tackling obstacle course races, and the feeling of accomplishment when I have become strong enough to need to go out and buy a new set of dumbbells. In the past, I’ve slid into bases, played tackle football in the backyard with my brothers, and had my ass kicked in martial arts studios. The benefits to my physical and mental health are too numerous to list here (though that might be a worthwhile topic for a future post? We’ll see…). Then, when the workday is done and the chores are finished and the day’s workout is completed, there’s the escape of turning on a Royals game or a Packers game and getting lost in watching others compete while I unwind.
For kids and adults alike, there are organized recreational teams to encourage a sense of community as well as to promote our overall well-being. And, again, we also find community in the teams we root for (or against), and in the time we can spend in watching those teams and players compete. We become so engrossed with these games that we become emotionally involved in them. We sometimes become obsessed. We track our favorite players, we feel anxiety or elation over the performances of our teams, we buy their jerseys and wear caps bearing their logos and we do so with pride. Hell, the Super Bowl has become such a big deal that we throw house parties, complete with booze and a junk food feast, sometimes just so we can watch the commercials.
The death of Yordano Ventura revealed the incredible sense of community among Royals fans. The way my Facebook feed exploded with shock and grief revealed just how profound an impact this one man playing for this one team really had. The tributes in memory of Ventura made at Kauffman Stadium are overflowing onto the parking lot. Baseball, and sports in general, they mean something to us, and they impact us on a deeper level than we oftentimes acknowledge. In a time of tremendous political and social turmoil in our country, maybe it is time for sports, whether it is baseball or football or hockey or whatever, to exercise its power of healing yet again.