Little League Phenom Takes Her Exit, But The Series Goes On
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
There has been no bigger sports star than Mo'ne Davis. She is of course the 13-year-old from Philadelphia who pitched and charmed her way to fame at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. But Mo'ne's Little League journey ended last night when her team was eliminated by another inner-city team from Chicago. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis now joins us for a little talk about Little League. Hi there, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: Mo'ne is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Celebrities from Billie Jean King to Michelle Obama have tweeted about her. Did she draw record TV audiences for the Little League?
FATSIS: Oh my god. Not even close, Robert. More than 5 million viewers tuned in to ESPN on Wednesday when Mo'ne pitched against a team from Las Vegas. She allowed three runs. Her team lost eight to one. Last night, she played first base and third base against Chicago. But her team lost again six-five. So they're out. Las Vegas will play Chicago in the U.S. championship game tomorrow. The winner will play the international champ, either Japan or South Korea, on Sunday.
SIEGEL: Major League Baseball's Commissioner Elect Rob Manfred was in Williamsport yesterday. And he said that he was rooting for the Philly-Chicago matchup because it could help boost baseball in cities.
FATSIS: Yeah, the number of African-American Major League players has been in decline. Mo'ne's team was racially diverse. The Chicago team is all African-American. Little League's urban initiatives have been touted a lot during the ESPN telecast. But one of Mo'ne's coaches was quoted in today's New York Times saying that what's missing are structured programs that develop talent in cities. Every one of the Las Vegas players plays baseball year-round. And it shows. They've got terrific mechanics. This team has outscored its opponents 33 to five at the Little League World Series. Chicago's Jackie Robinson West league shuts down six to eight months a year. But there's some good news there. An indoor sports training center in the league's neighborhood with federal money and donations from Major League Baseball and others is in the planning stages.
SIEGEL: Let's talk a little bit about what makes the Little League World Series so appealing. It's more than these particular storylines - Mo'ne and the Chicago team.
FATSIS: Yeah, this age hits a sweet spot. These kids are 11 to 13. They're young and small enough - most of them anyway - to still look cute. But they're old enough to perform like adults. That makes for compelling viewing. But Mo'ne in particular was a perfect storm. The fourth American girl ever to play in the Little League World Series, African-American, 70-mile-an-hour fastball and poised and funny. But I definitely reached a point this week when I kind of wanted everyone to just leave her alone.
SIEGEL: Why? Why did you want that?
FATSIS: It's an absurd amount of attention for a child no matter how poised she is. I was really struck by a quote from the manager of the Las Vegas team. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his players have loved the atmosphere in Williamsport - young kids, younger kids asking for autographs and high fives - that sort of stuff. But the other part, he said, where we've had hundreds of people trying to get to the kids through social media and other ways, can be scary. And the Las Vegas kids haven't had nearly the attention that Mo'ne has - 29,000 Twitter followers for her now.
SIEGEL: Do you fear that success will ruin the Little League World Series?
FATSIS: Well, look, Little League does a lot right. Tickets are free. Revenue supports local programs. There's no billboards on the outfield walls. But it is firmly part of the youth sports industrial complex. Its sponsors include Frosted Flakes, Gatorade, Bomb Pop. These are not the healthiest choices for athletes. ESPN is paying nearly $10 million a year for rights. It's showing 120 games on TV and online this year. Every time a game ends at 10:30 at night or a 12-year-old's pitching mechanics are broken down on national television, I wonder whether there isn't a more modest way to approach some of this.
SIEGEL: OK, well, have a great weekend Stefan.
FATSIS: You too, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.