My 2014 Sportsman nominee: Mo'ne Davis
This essay is one of more than 20 nominations for SI's 2014 Sportsman of the Year. You can see all of this year's nominees here.
They had to remind her to smile. Her coaches, her family, her friends -- that’s what they always told her: Smile. Soak it all in. Enjoy it! The truth was that she didn’t enjoy much of it at all. She loved to being on the field competing and the closed-door moments with her teammates and family, but the circus? She would explain that she didn’t smile in interviews because, well, no offense, but most of the time she wanted to get it over with. When she posed for pictures or could sense the cameras on her, she didn’t smile, either.
“I just want to be real,” she would say.
It wasn’t that long ago that it took some time for something to swell into a phenomenon -- there used to be a crescendo, a build to it all. Those days, of course, are gone. Something cool occurs now -- a 13-year-old girl dominating little leaguers with a 70 mph fastball, for instance -- that people are instantly tripping over themselves to attach significance to the moment, so much so that we forget the most important parts of the moment. In the case of Mo’ne Davis of Philadelphia, it took practically no time for her to go from nobody to curiosity to phenomenon. One day she was just another 13-year-old enjoying her summer before her eighth grade year -- she played baseball, her third favorite sport, just so she could hang out with her friends in the summer -- and the next she was Mo’ne, national phenomenon, with tweets from Clayton Kershaw, Kevin Durant, and Michelle Obama, with the media horde descending upon the Little League World Series in Williamsport like it was Super Bowl week -- and that was before she landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Why Mo’ne for Sportsperson of the Year?
Because her pitching performance on Aug. 15 -- six innings, eight strikeouts, no walks, no runs allowed, against Nashville in the first round of the Little League World Series -- was one the most enthralling sports performances of the year. Because she may have been the most remarkably composed teenager we’ve ever seen on a stage like the one she found herself on in Williamsport in August -- with all the scrutiny and attention, it was a damn miracle she could get herself out of bed in the morning, not to mention step on the mound and fire strikes with a gunslinger’s deadly stare.
Because, as the circus raged on around her, she did stay real through it all, even as she supplanted LeBron’s Cleveland return and the Jeter au revoir as the big sports story for that one week this summer: at Williamsport, she seemed far more interested in sharing the spotlight with her fellow Dragons and being a good teammate rather than get caught up in her own hype. Her teammates and coaches always described her as the mother of the Dragons, and she was until the end: the most memorable image from Taney’s run was that of Davis consoling teammate Jack Rice after he recorded the final out of the game that eliminated Taney from the tournament.
So let’s one more moment to recognize her and her remarkable summer, and then let’s leave her alone and let her finish the eighth grade in peace. Mo’ne Davis is still just 13 years old. She’s still just a kid, one who happened to do more than anyone else in 2014 to show us that anything is still possible.