Meet Katie Brownell, the girl who once struck out 18 batters in a perfect Little League game
10 years ago, a girl struck out 18 straight batters
Ten years ago -- when Mo'ne Davis was still a toddler -- an 11-year-old girl named Katie Brownell was pitching for her local Little League in upstate New York.
"I grew up with four older brothers and we were always at the ball fields because the oldest is 10 years older than me, so I kind of grew up around baseball," Brownell said. "I always wanted to do what my brothers did, so when I was old enough, my mother signed me up for baseball and I fell in love with the game."
On May 14, 2005, Brownell took the mound at Elroy Parkins Memorial Town Park to pitch for the Oakfield-Alabama Little League's Dodgers.
She struck out the first batter she faced.
Then the second ... and the third.
"I woke up like normal, put my left sock on first, then my right sock and got dressed and ready for my game," she said. We had to be at the park early for pictures and then coach told me to go get warmed up."
Her catcher, Tommy Fowler, says that he spent much of his childhood catching Brownell, "I was the primary catcher and caught every day unless I pitched, so I was very familiar with what she was capable of," Fowler said. "There was just something about that day. We all felt good even though we were up against a team that had given us fits in the past. She started and just shut them down."
Brownell threw a perfect second inning, again striking out the side.
This wasn't entirely surprising. Brownell had been dominant in other games, including a one-hit, 14-strikeout performance in her previous start. She also entered the day batting .714.
"I think they were getting upset that they couldn't hit her," Fowler said of the opposing Yankees. "After a while, they looked deflated knowing they couldn't touch her."
The third and fourth came and went. Brownell had faced 12 batters and struck them all out.
"None of the players actually knew what was happening," Fowler admitted. "None of the parents or coaches told us. I remember it being just me and her. Like it was just us out there and nothing else mattered."
Brownell never reached a three-ball count as the opposing team hardly managed to foul her pitches off. She says that the most difficult batter she faced that day was Jon Bates.
Bates -- whose father was keeping the book for his son's team that day -- says that his dad never really let on Brownell's full dominance. "I fouled a few off at my last at-bat -- couple straight back and one down the right-field line," Bates remembers. "I knew we were losing and I just wanted to get a hit and hopefully spark something in the dugout so that we could get a run or two before the end."
"The 'home run king' was on that team," Brownell said, still proud of herself for striking him out multiple times. "They hardly managed any foul balls that game, but the last batter of the game fouled three off behind the backstop before striking out on the final pitch."
Though Brownell, Fowler and Bates all confess that they weren't aware of it at the time, they became part of one of the most impressive feats in Little League history that day.
Eighteen up, 18 down on strikes.
Once Brownell completed the first Little League perfect game thrown by a girl, the media circus was on.
"School the following Monday was less than amusing," Bates admits. "Everyone was kind of poking fun at our team, saying we got struck out by a girl."
Attendance at Brownell's next start doubled, but just the fact that people cared about the attendance at a Little League game in Oakfield, N.Y. was impressive enough. She made the talk show rounds and threw out multiple MLB first pitches.
The New York Times said she had a "mean fastball."
The Seattle Times proclaimed that, "She Got Game."
The Los Angeles Times reported that she was, "no fluke."
Then the Baseball Hall of Fame came calling.
But Brownell wasn't exactly impressed:
"She's like, 'No, I'm keeping my jersey,'" [her mother, Denise] Bischoff said.
Brownell eventually relented, donating her jersey and taking her teammates to Cooperstown for a V.I.P. tour of the museum.
Brownell with Fowler (lower left) and Maria Pepe, whose lawsuit paved the way for girls in Little League.
That year, Brownell was honored CosmoGIRL!'s Top 10 Born to Lead event alongside Hilary Duff and Ciara.
Brownell with recording artist Ciara at the 2005 CosmoGIRL! Born to Lead event in New York City.
Good Morning America. ESPN 2's Cold Pizza. CBS News. Before her perfect game, Brownell had never been out of western New York. By the end of the next year, she'd visit California (and Disneyland, of course), Florida, New York City and Cooperstown on multiple occasions.
Even after the attention subsided, Brownell played baseball for another few years before she switched to softball to play for her school team. Turned out she was pretty good at that too, and she went on to play at Buffalo State College where she batted .371 as a junior. She thought her playing career was over when she had to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum, but returned after months of rehab and cranked a three-run homer in her first at-bat.
In 2013, the Oakland-Alabama Little League retired Brownell's jersey with a ceremony at the local elementary school. While she didn't tune in to watch Mo'ne Davis' Little League World Series games, Brownell related to the way Davis has been an ambassador for girls in sports.
"The year after I had to retire from that league, a little girl joined the baseball team in my hometown and said she wanted to play with the boys," Brownell said. "To see that makes me the happiest, just knowing that I had inspired her to follow her dreams and do what makes her happy."
Ten years after her brush with Little League history, Brownell is still looking forward to a future in baseball. In addition to working on her certification as a personal trainer and bodybuilding with her older brother, Jon, Brownell will graduate from Buffalo State College on May 16 with a degree in communications. She hopes to one day work for an MLB team.