Steve Bandura was riding a tractor.
It was 2008. The fall baseball season had just ended and Bandura, who coaches the Anderson Monarchs youth travel baseball team, was working on cleaning up the field. Something caught his eye.
“A lot of our kids were still hanging around, they were out in left field throwing a football around,” he said. “There was this little girl in the group with them, and I’m watching her throw perfect spirals every single time, and throwing them a good distance. I was like, ‘What is that?’”
“That” was 7-year-old Mo’ne Davis. Her cousin was then a member of the Monarchs, and she was spending the afternoon at Marian Anderson Recreational Center messing around with some neighborhood boys. But she was also chasing them, running them down and tackling them — fearlessly.
Bandura invited Davis to a boys basketball practice a few days later. He didn’t expect her to show up. She did.
He gave her the option of sitting out the more complicated drills, considering she was only 7 and hadn’t ever played. She refused.
“As the two groups in front of her went, I could see her eyes,” Bandura said. “I just watched her eyes study what was going on and process what was going on. On her turn, she could do it like she had been doing it her whole life. It was just amazing.
“That was when I knew. You could tell she had the athleticism, but that analytical skill, you just can’t teach that.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Or, at least making it. Davis will be just the 17th girl ever to play in the Little League World Series when the Taney Dragons take the field Friday afternoon in Williamsport. She will be the first American girl to play in the tournament in a decade.
It’s no small feat. Davis started pitching her first season playing baseball, the same year Bandura discovered her. She’s honed her skill since then, but right from the beginning she had a knack for throwing strikes. In the younger age groups, Bandura said, that’s all a player needs.
As she’s gotten older, though, Davis has improved dramatically. Bandura said the physical differences between male and female players usually kick in between 10 and 12, but that hasn’t been the case for 13-year-old Davis. She can throw a fastball. She can throw a changeup. She’s worked on her breaking ball this year, too. Her shutout propelled Taney to the tournament.
“From the beginning, she had good control,” Bandura said. “She has incredible spatial awareness, or kinesthetic awareness — whatever you want to call it. If she’s doing something wrong, she knows how to fix it, what to do with her body to fix it. She knows what she’s doing wrong. She knows how to correct it and she corrects it. Because of that, she always throws strikes.”
And that's something special. Bandura has coached scores of baseball players over the years, both boys and girls. He's overseen plenty of talent at all different positions. But considering her age and ability, Davis tops his list. He said he's even more impressed at how well-rounded she is; Davis is an honor student at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, one of the best schools in the area.
“At this age, she’s the best pitcher I’ve ever had,” Bandura said. “I’ve had pitchers that are now in the minor leagues, but at this age, no one’s had the control to go with the velocity that she has and the command.”
Bandura doesn’t coach the Dragons. This week in Williamsport, he’ll “just be a dad,” he said (his son Scott plays catcher to Davis’ pitcher). But he’s been handling media requests for the team lately, and there’s been a lot of them for Davis.
“I had to talk to her and let her know that it’s important that she does the interviews because she’s a role model,” he said. “The more we can get her story out there, the better for other girls — other inner-city girls, any girls.”