It's a new day for Little League

Baseball fans are trivia buffs by nature. There are seven ways to reach first base without getting a hit. Six teams have the letter C on their caps.

And even this year's casual fans should know the answer to this: Who is Mo'ne Davis?

The story starts 42 years ago in either Hoboken, New Jersey, or Mill Valley, California, depending on your point of view. The Hoboken option is the tale of Maria Pepe, who was 12 years old when she pitched three games for a Little League team called the Young Democrats. When the Little League brass caught wind of it, she was booted from the team, but Maria Pepe was the first girl to play Little League baseball.

"I remember getting on the elevator in the building one day with a gentleman who was very involved in Hoboken sports, and when the door closed, he let loose on me," Pepe said in a recent interview. "He yelled, 'Don't you realize how much trouble you're causing?'"

Here's the asterisk (because baseball record books adore the asterisk): Kathryn Johnston of Corning, New York, made a Little League team in 1950 by cutting her hair and disguising herself as a boy, but she got tossed before she got to play.

The Mill Valley version goes like this: Jenny Fulle was 11 years old when she, with the help of the National Organization for Women and American Civil Liberties Union, sued the league under the newly enacted Title IX amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. She won, and in 1974 Fulle became the first girl to legally play in a Little League game. There were about 20 other girls around the country who joined Fulle in her lawsuit 40 years ago; one was Janine Cinseruli of Peabody, Massachusetts. There, a judge put a halt on the Little League season until the case was resolved.

"The big thing was fathers wanted their sons to play," Cinseruli recently told a writer for ESPN. "So we got hate mail and people drove by the house and yelled things at my mother, insulting things like 'What kind of mother are you? Put a dress on her. Teach her to type.'"

Others had headless dolls turn up in their mailboxes.

All of which brings us to Mo'ne Davis, who this week became the first Little League player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Not the first female Little League player the first Little League player. As Sports Illustrated Managing Editor Chris Stone said, she's owned the sports conversation last week and this week, and maybe still will next week. It doesn't hurt that she threw a two-hit shutout against Nashville on Friday, striking out eight and walking none in a six-inning complete game. Eighteen girls have played in the Little League World Series, but Davis was the first to toss a shutout.

The Thunder's Kevin Durant tweeted: "This youngster is striking everybody out and she is a girl. I love it. #itsanewday"

Forty years after Little League was forced to take down the gender barrier, the misogynists are still around, posting to the plethora of stories about Davis, arguing about stupid stuff. How come girls can play in boys' leagues but boys can't play in girls' leagues? It's biology boys and girls are just different. Just wait until those boys hit puberty; she won't stand a chance. Blah, blah, blah.

Here's what matters: Mo'ne Davis is a cool kid from Philadelphia with a 70-mile-per-hour fastball who is making the Little League World Series a lot of fun to watch.

The one time I threw with a radar gun it was at an amusement park. My best toss with a softball was a whopping 56 mph.

Which made me wish I could throw like a girl.

Published: Fri, Aug 29, 2014

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