The Taney Dragons, representing Pennsylvania, will take on Nevada in a Little League World Series semifinal tonight. On the mound for the Dragons will be Mo'ne Davis, a 13-year-old girl whom you have surely heard of by now. You should be watching this game, because even though this is just little league baseball, Mo'ne is as rare a talent as you'll ever see in sports.
Not many people knew who Mo'ne Davis was 10 days ago, but that all changed when she led her team into the Little League World Series by pitching a complete-game shutout against Newark in the Mid-Atlantic regional championship. Mo'ne struck out six boys and allowed just three hits in six innings of work. Almost immediately, GIFs and Vines of her 70 mph fastball—which is about as fast as it gets in little league—and wipeout curveball making dudes look helpless and overmatched started flying around the internet. I mean, this is just filthy:
She transcended from curiosity to sensation when in her next start, last Friday against Nashville, she tossed yet another shutout, this time striking out eight and allowing just two hits.
Since then, she's basically become the most charming 13-year-old girl in history. Watch how she handles herself during this postgame press conference, handling dumb questions about how many Instagram followers she has with grace and humor, and at one point even stopping to chide the media for not asking her teammates more questions:
Davis said that at times, when an adult approached her alone for an autograph, it "kind of creeps me out a little bit."
And this one:
If I'm pitching, I just go out and throw strikes. They think I throw, like, soft, but then they see my fastball, and they get kinda scared and I just strike 'em out.
There are a great many things to love about Mo'ne Davis—her ability to inspire young girls who want to play baseball, her charming and thoughtful demeanor, the fact that she doesn't seem to be taking any of this too seriously—but what deserves the most attention is the fact that she's really out here, doing this.
Watching Mo'ne Davis pitch isn't like watching other little leaguers, or, hell, even high schoolers pitch. You don't see the awkward hitches or short-armed delivery that points out a kid who hasn't yet gained full comfort and control over his body. Mo'ne is lithe and fluid on the mound, snapping off vapor-trail fastballs with ease. Look at a still shot of her at any point during her delivery, and you'll see someone who looks a hell of a lot like a major-league pitcher.
It might seem obvious that a 13-year-old girl, who likely developed faster than her male peers, would be able to leverage her superior coordination and familiarity with her body into a 70-mph fastball. But what Mo'ne is doing is far more impressive than just "athletic young girl learns to pitch."
There is plenty of scientific data to suggest that men and women are actually much more alike, both psychologically and physically, than most people assume. One such study examined the motor functions of boys and girls ages from ages three to 20. The boys outpaced the girls, but only slightly, in grip strength (+0.66 standard deviations), sprinting (+0.63 standard deviations), and vertical jump (+0.18 standard deviations). But when it came to throwing distance (+1.98) and throwing velocity (+2.18), the boys blew the girls out of the water. It's easy to write off that disparity as a result of societal gender norms—parents simply don't teach their daughters how to throw—but another study suggests that there might be something more intrinsic to the throwing gap.
Jerry Thomas of the University of North Texas studied the gender gap in throwing among aboriginal Australians, which made for a good natural experiment as both genders hunt, and learn to throw from an early age. As it turned out, the difference between how hard girls and boys threw was similar to the difference observed in America, suggesting that there's a hard-wired reason for why women don't throw as well as men. (Thomas suspects it's neurological, but the truth is that no one really knows.)
None of this is 100 percent conclusive, but it should serve to highlight just what an incredibly impressive athlete Mo'ne Davis is. The fact that she is even a pitcher in the first place—she told espnW that she started out as an outfielder, and just came in to pitch one day because the team was desperate for someone to take the mound—is a rarity, the fact that she's able to dominate male peers at the highest level of little league competition seemingly bucks thousands of years of evolution.
So, yes, watch Mo'ne Davis pitch tonight because she is inspiring, but also watch her because she does things that she was never supposed to be able to do.