CINCINNATI -- "Was that a strike?" Mo'ne Davis asked her teammates in the dugout at Great American Ball Park.
Yeah, they told her. It was a strike, low in the zone.
"Yo," she said, "I didn't get three of those last inning."
Davis is frustrated, because she just surrendered a 3-1 lead in her team's opening game of the RBI World Series. The home-plate ump has seemingly squeezed her on a couple would-be strike threes, and the inning unraveled. Two runs, two hits and Davis' own throwing error coming back to haunt the Phillies' junior division club in what became a 4-3 loss.
But it is a moment like this, a game like this, that exemplifies what's so special about this utterly unflappable 16-year-old girl.
Three years ago, at the Little League World Series, Mo'ne Davis was a sports sensation. One night she threw a shutout, and instantly her story was used for a female empowerment purpose. Mo'ne landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, she met the president, she won awards, she threw out the first pitch at the World Series, she was the subject of a Spike Lee documentary and, yes, she released her memoir. Through it all, Mo'ne was the same composed kid sitting here in this dugout, expressing her exasperation in a muted tone before quickly shifting her focus to the inning ahead.
"When they scored off me," she said later, "I didn't let it bother me. I didn't want [the kids from the other team] talking like, 'She's nervous.' I had to stay calm, because I know they're going to try to get in my head and try to talk in the hotel the whole time."
Spend any time around Mo'ne, who has very much earned the mononym that can only come with celebrity, and you get the sense that nothing in this life is going to deter her. Her baseball career is nearing its conclusion as she turns her focus to earning a college basketball scholarship, and this RBI experience could well be her last national hurrah in this particular game.
But Mo'ne still matters -- both for the athletic gifts that will allow the pending high school junior to soon play Division I hoops, and for the maturity with which she puts those gifts to use. She has a platform very few of us could ever dream to reach, and she has used it not just to positively influence girls younger than her, but to demonstrate to her male teammates and her opponents the importance of genuine respect for the opposite sex.
"We signed up probably 160 5- to 7-year-olds for baseball, and 20-25 of them were girls," said her coach Steve Bandura, who has been running the inner-city Anderson Monarchs baseball program for 20 years. "We also have two girls on our 10-and-under travel team. Mo'ne is an inspiration. And she has fun. That's the greatest thing about it."
Mo'ne played for her high school softball team. But her dream is to play in the WNBA, and she's getting long looks from some prominent collegiate basketball programs. She had once expressed desire to play for Geno Auriemma at UConn, though she seems to be backing off that idea, her individual identity trumping even the allure of such a historically successful program.
"I still watch them play and still watch all the highlights, but I don't know if I fit that playing style," she said. "I have a different playing style, an old-school playing style. I like to slow things down if the team's on the run, get the ball moving a little bit."
Mo'ne said she's learned a lot from baseball, about the importance of mental preparedness and anticipation. She applies it to other sports and to life itself. And the game brought her life some crazy turns she never saw coming. Mo'ne was cleaning her room one day recently when she came across her mementos from the summer of 2014 and all that followed. It blew her away.
"I had to sit back and be grateful for what I have," she said, "and to Coach Steve for teaching me everything I know about baseball."
Despite all the major life experiences baseball has brought Mo'ne, she's still just a kid. She sometimes stays with Bandura's family during the baseball season, and it's the same thing for breakfast every morning: Eggo waffles. They laugh, because there's a girl character on the hit Netflix show "Stranger Things" who abides by the same diet. Her name is Eleven, which just so happens to be Mo'ne's number.
"You've got to get the buttermilk ones or the homestyle ones," Davis said. "Those are the best."
On Tuesday, Mo'ne had her breakfast, then traveled with her team to Great American Ball Park, where she pitched the fourth and fifth innings of the loss to the White Sox RBI team. Both teams featured several members of the Taney and Jackie Robinson West squads that advanced deep into the 2014 Little League World Series and represented the game's strides in the inner cities.
But Mo'ne personally represented something else entirely -- the opportunity that one day might be available to a woman in this sport. It was only two innings of a youth game, but Mo'ne had her moment on the big league mound on this day. And like so much else in life, it didn't faze her.
"I thought it would look a lot further," she said of the distance to the plate. "But it wasn't as far as I thought."
Seems there's a lesson there.