By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I want to thank Mo’ne Davis, pitcher and infielder for the Taney Little League squad that represented the Mid-Atlantic Division in the 2014 Little League World Series. In years past I was hesitant to consume the odd little ritual of celebrating kids whom I don’t know — actual children — playing baseball on national TV.
It felt weird, exploitative, even creepy child pageant-like, where eye black had replaced eye shadow. Davis being on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated might have previously turned me away completely as an affront to all I value about not pimping kids for shallow adult viewing pleasure and financial gain. Luckily, I read Albert Chen’s piece on her, though, because she put me at ease.
“All of the interviews and the autographs and people who wanted me to take pictures, it’s kind of taking away the fun,” Davis said. “People were like, ‘Oh, there’s going to be people running up to you taking pictures,’ and I thought it was going to be a bunch of little kids. But it’s grown-ups! And that’s, like, creepy.”
Way to go, Miss Davis. You killed two birds with one curveball for me there. Not only did you call out the awful adults who fawn over child athletes as celebrities and crave their autographs, but you also demonstrated that despite those sad weirdos and the four-letter network über-exposure and drawing more viewers than Major League teams, this is fun. Plain and simple.
There are no contract talks. No feuding with a front office. Managers aren’t silently calling for the game to be played “the right way” by invoking vigilante justice on fun and having fastballs launched at batters’ torsos. Fun gets lost along the way with money, facial hair codes and being angry at a Yasiel Puig for being exactly what baseball should be.
This is amateurism at its purest and best — even if the concept is arguably a garbage one. Or at least this Little League World Series is the embodiment of the tripe that holier-than-thou college sports fans pretend is the reality of their minor league systems. All that try-hard, love-of-the-game, preaching-fundamentals noise has been on display every day and night this week in Williamsport, Pa.
Yes, there are “grown-up” storylines among the kids, too. Davis being the face of one of the last three American teams and also being a girl is an unavoidable ink-spiller. She’s the first Little Leaguer to appear on an SI cover regardless of gender.
Amanda Hess of Slate noted on Wednesday:
Of the 73 covers SI has published this year, Davis’ cover is only the sixth to feature a female athlete. Davis is currently the sole female athlete appearing on the Sports Illustrated home page, alongside around 50 male athletes or prominent sports figures. The other women on the home page are an NFL cheerleader, a model wearing a swimsuit and another model getting an ice bucket dumped over her head.
Hess went on to wonder, and rightfully so, whether SI will stay true to its command on its cover: “REMEMBER HER NAME.” Or will Davis’ convenient story conveniently go away until some “Where Are They Now?” issue.
Of course, Jackie Robinson West now shares sole possession of media focus after eliminating the Taney team Thursday. Until then, the team from Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood on the South Side was silver medalist in the national narrative department. I was fine with that because the less desire for someone to tie some kids who just want to enjoy playing baseball with the city’s notorious crime, the better.
#JRW, as Twitter knows them, is an entirely African-American team named after the man most identifiable with the African-American struggle as it relates to sports. In a time when baseball is disturbingly un-black, if these kids and the team from inside Philly can serve as an inspiration to other African-American kids to pick up the game, that would be great.
But they’re kids, and they are not weight-bearers of our adult issues — or they sure as hell don’t deserve to be. They’re on our TVs because they’re good at what they do and have fun doing it. I have yet to see any of them appear misused or forced against their will to be out there. And if they get a tiny bit spoiled by the manufactured stuff like postgame interviews and ESPN using their highlights and nickname graphics going to commercial, fine.
I’m not comfortable with it, but I won’t deny them their 15 minutes, which is really what it is, and I dare you otherwise to name me a Little Leaguer other than the few that played in the MLB.
So much of the cool stuff about the LLWS is organic. The joy, frustration and tears on the kids’ faces. Being so happy for #JRW while simultaneously aching for the crying young Philadelphians in the handshake line. I can divorce myself from the contrived TV stuff and haughty or gushy columns and appreciate some actual untainted fun. And to the credit of these players and coaches, there has been some really compelling baseball played as well.
So I want to thank you boys and girls for all that. And I promise I won’t ask any of you for an autograph.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.