The Little Team that Could. Real-Life Rockies. Philly’s Best.
After all, they are making history as the first team from Philadelphia ever to compete in the Little League World Series, featuring the first female pitcher to deliver a shutout game – able to sling balls at 70 mph.
This assortment of students, coming from all walks of life and from across the city, has gifted Philadelphia with more than thrilling baseball games. That can be seen in the attendees at the City Hall pep rallies hosted by Mayor Nutter, in the banter at SEPTA stops, in bars, in barbershops and nail salons.
With every pitch and every hit, the city’s new favorite franchise has helped bring this town together. And Philly has returned the favor, wrapping its arms around these kids, and squeezing tightly.
“We’re talking about an inter-gender, interracial, inter-class team. They come from South Philly, Mount Airy, West Philly, all over, all kinds of backgrounds. It’s a real Philadelphia team,” said PCHR Commissioner Rebecca T. Alpert. A Temple University professor and a rabbi, Alpert also is the author of Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball and a longtime fan of the sport.
“We have such deep, painful divides in Philadelphia. But watching these kids really gives you hope for the future. It gives you a sense that everything isn’t horrible,” she said. “They have brought us some relief, because it’s been a tough summer.”
There was the July 4th holiday inferno in Southwest Philadelphia that stole four Liberian-American babies and ushered in days of grief-stricken unrest.
Then there were the FBI arrests of members of Philadelphia Police Department’s elite narcotics squad on corruption charges. And the shooting death of a 3-year-old girl while she sat on a neighbor’s porch getting her hair braided in South Philly.
Plus, the ever-present cloud that has been the day-to-day drama of the School District of Philadelphia’s fate and fall opening has kept emotions topsy-turvy, students through principals.
And that’s just locally.
The slaying of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Missouri and the chokehold-induced death of unarmed Eric Garner in New York City also have helped heighten anxieties and darken moods this summer as some have come to question the application of law, let alone finding justice within it.
Enter the purity of amateur sport. Enter Little League.
It long has been symbolic of Americana, of community and possibility. Still, Little League imagery tends to conjure small towns, not bustling cities with all the deep and systemic problems found within them. But with their camaraderie, sportsmanship, determination and demeanor, the Taney Dragons have breathed more than fire on the baseball diamond. They have breathed renewed hope into a city wracked by weeks of devastating news.
Despite an early decisive win in the series, the Dragons dropped a game Wednesday night, leaving them less in control of their future. Now it’s play-or-go home as they gear up for their next game, facing another inspiring team, the all-African-American squad from Chicago – the Jackie Robinson West team.
The Dragons and Robinson West will meet on the baseball diamond in a double-elimination game Thursday night. The winner advances to the U.S. championship game. The loser gets to cheer from the stands.
Whenever, wherever the ride ends, the journey this summer has been pure, unifying magic at a time and space when it sorely has been needed.
This Crayola assortment of students has offered a meaningful distraction, a chance to re-imagine what life could be like if everyone strove to live up to those Little League ideals of respect and fair play.
It is a team that has arisen from a city history forged as much by the scrappy Anderson Monarchs as by the dazzling Philadelphia Stars and the full scope of the Philadelphia Phillies, from the one of the last team in the majors to integrate to the rainbow squad that captured the 2008 World Series.
If anything, the Taney Dragons reflect the best of all of that, and some, Alpert said.
“They really seem like nice kids, and then they have this girl, who’s incredible,” she said. “They are really living out what I wish Philadelphia were like. Watching people watch them, how they’re interacting with each other, this is totally about human relations, how we treat one another.”
That makes this latest round of Philly sports fever that much more special, that much sweeter.