first_imgPennsylvania’s Mo’ne Davis delivers in the first inning against Tennessee during a baseball game in United States pool play at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)The 68th Little League Baseball World Series is going on in South Williamsport right now and for the first time ever, one of them — the Taney Dragons — is from Philadelphia.The Dragons — an amazing team of 11 boys and one young lady, ranging in age from 12-13 and based out of Center City — has captured the hearts of baseball and non-baseball fans here in the Delaware Valley and throughout the world.What makes the Dragons’ World Series run the feel-good-story of the year is they are a team that no one ever thought would go this far. It’s a hardworking group of public and non-public school kids — Mo’Ne Davis, Jahi Hendricks, Joe Richardson, Kai Cummings, Zion Spearman, Jack Rice, Eli Simon, Scott Bandura, Erik Lipson, Tai Shanahan, Carter Davis and Jared Sprague-Lott — that represent the racial and ethnic mosaic that is our city.“It’s a terrific bunch and they’ve been together for years,” said Alex Rice, the team’s manager. “They are best friends. They have each other’s backs and they are enjoying playing really good baseball … Everyone is thrilled. They are excited and I’m excited for them … It is just a very unique group as far as maturity, respect for each other; respect for the game is tremendous.”In only their second season as a member of Little League baseball, the 2014 Dragons won the Pa. District 19 tournament, the Pa. Section 8 Championship, Pa. Little League title and Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship to get to the World Series. That’s a lot of baseball. If you count just the tournament, sectionals, state title and Mid-Atlantic Regional games, the Dragons went into this year’s World Series with a record of 19-2.The Dragons have already played two World Series games by the time this first weekend of play is over. Busloads and carpools of Taney parents and supporters have gone to Williamsport to see every game. The World Series is a double-elimination, which means a team must lose twice to be eliminated.When the season started back in April, Taney Youth Baseball Association officials said Rice, whose son Jack is on the team, told everyone this team would make the World Series. They must have thought he was crazy at the time, but now the manager’s dream is a reality. Winning the Little League World Series isn’t a fantasy anymore, but truly within reach.The player receiving the attention is Dragons’ star pitcher Davis. This 13-year-old with long black braids gives the phrase “throw like a girl” a different meaning with her intimidating 70 mph fastball.“If I’m pitching, I just go out and throw strikes,” Davis told “They [the other teams] think I throw soft, but then they see my fastball and they get kind of scared and I just strike them out.”Baseball might not even be Davis’ best sport. She is also a star basketball player as well.Davis is the 18th girl to play in the World Series, joining Emma March of South Vancouver, British Columbia (the Canadian champions) this year. Nearly 8,800 players have competed in 67 years of World Series games leading up to this year. This year is also the 40th anniversary of girls in Little League and only the third time that two girls will play in the same Little League Baseball World Series.Taney is now in the elite class of Little League teams worldwide. That reality hit them as they arrived earlier this week at the Little League International complex in Williamsport, located in North Central Pennsylvania, a three-hour drive from Philadelphia.Gone are the team’s regular blue and white uniforms and hats, replaced by “powder blue and maroon colored” Mid-Atlantic uniform and hats, Little League Baseball and Softball spokesman Brian McClintock said. This year’s Mid-Atlantic uniforms look a lot like the uniforms the Phillies wore in the 1970s, so it is ironic that a Philadelphia team will be wearing them. The new uniforms even come with different numbers for the players (Davis will wear number 3 in the World Series; she wears number 11 on the Dragons).All of the games will be on television, meaning fans worldwide will be seeing them. Because of this, the Taney players and coaches are also dealing with a push of local, national and international media. The team even has its own Philadelphia-based PR person for the rest of its’ World Series run.Making it to the Little League World Series does have its rewards. McClintock said all transportation, lodging at Little League’s International Grove housing complex and food for players and coaches are paid for by Little League. Also all players get brand new uniforms, hats, batting gloves, bats, sunglasses and other equipment to keep for free, thanks to Little League sponsors.While it would be fantastic for Taney to come home as the champions of the Little League World Series after the final game is played August 24, they’ve made a permanent mark on Philadelphia history no matter what happens. When the team comes back home, it deserves all of the accolades that Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Tom Corbett can give them. They have been great ambassadors for the game of baseball, the Greater Philadelphia Region and Pennsylvania.The Dragons are allowed to stay at the Little League International complex through the Aug. 24 championship game, even if they don’t make it to the championship game. Here’s hoping the players and coaches from Taney and Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team, an all-Black team representing the Great Lakes Region, strongly consider staying until the end to enjoy every second of this truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.No matter what happens at the World Series, this is the last season for this team of 12-13-year-old-Dragons, Taney spokesman Scott Tattar said. Kids can only play Little League ball until age 13 and they will all be over age 13 when the season starts next year.But their legacy will remain.The lasting legacy of “this team is breaking stereotypes of city kids and African-American kids playing baseball,” Manager Rice said. “They have been given the opportunity to excel and they are excelling … I think this can dramatically help not just Taney Little League but all the [youth] baseball programs in the city.”The 2014 Taney Dragons still have a long life ahead of them — middle school and junior high school starts back in September. They’ll attend high school, the prom and college. They’ll have careers, get married and have children of their own who may or may not play baseball. This World Series run will be a highlight of the player’s lives, but it will not determine their final paths in life.During this magical 2014 season, win or lose, every member of the Taney Dragon team, coaches, parents and extended family will walk together forever.Vincent Thompson is the principal at Philadelphia-based Thompson Mediaman Communications, a public relations/communications company. He is an award-winning journalist and public relations practitioner, news analyst and strategist. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his company, clients or media outlets and organizations he is affiliated with. E-mail him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mediamancomm.

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