I found it impossible to head into the new year without taking time to salute the most compelling sports figure of 2014.
Now, I know people will disagree on who that sports figure should be. I already know Sports Illustrated made a peculiar pick when the magazine named Madison Baumgarner, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, as its “Sportsman of the Year."
I’m not sure what’s behind the pick, because Baumgarner never had the sports world riveted to his performance the way the person the magazine should have picked did.
Who was that person?
The answer is: Mo’ne Davis.
For two weeks in mid-August, the 13-year-old Davis was the toast of the sports world. Her play in the Little League World Series had folks everywhere talking baseball. They did more than talk baseball; they watched it.
People watched a Black girl from Philadelphia pitch a diverse team of all boys to the brink of glory. Davis became the brightest star on the baseball diamonds in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and she made baseball fans – at least those of us who enjoy Little League baseball – forget that she was a girl.
Braids flowing from underneath her baseball cap, Davis gave new meaning to the phrase “The Boys of Summer.” The phrase became, if only for one summer, “The Kids of Summer.”
Yet what made Davis, the AP Female Athlete of the Year, such a compelling figure, aside from her skills, was her electric personality.
Probably no one sees Davis catapulting her World Series success into a career in Major League Baseball. I certainly don’t. I join others who know that, despite her faultless mechanics, she won’t have the bulk or the muscle to compete with the boys as they all move deep into their teenage years.
But we all could be wrong. Nobody can discount a person whose focus is on breaking a barrier, and a woman in the Majors would be a barrier to break that rivals what Jackie Robinson did in 1947.
Still, I didn’t pick Davis as the sports figure of 2014 for what the future might look for her in baseball. She can’t know that future any more than the rest of us can know it. I picked her for her dazzling display of excellence under the brightest spotlight.
She performed in Williamsport like no girl ever had. Davis, whose perpetual smile proved as endearing as her talent, became the first girl to pitch a Series shutout, and she became the first girl to dominate boys in what has long been the quintessential sport for preadolescent males.
Her performance sticks out in our minds in a way that Baumgarner’s doesn’t. Davis was easy to root for, because she wasn’t aligned with a particular team or region of the United States. She was an all-American story, and Americans are suckers for sweet stories like hers.
Davis, a skilled basketball player, gave us a once-in-a-generation story, and we will remember her story, we will talk about her story, we will enjoy her story from last summer even if we don’t remember the team she played for or anybody else on her team.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT/LANDOV)