Mo’ne Davis is the talk of the baseball diamond this week as she and her team, Pennsylvania’s Taney Dragons, compete for a spot in the Little League World Series Championship on Sunday.
But tonight, the team will go up against another tough opponent, Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West squad, which has a great story of its own. The all-African American team hails from Chicago’s south side and is proving inner city baseball programs can flourish just as well as those in more affluent neighborhoods.
Because both teams have garnered their fair share of media attention, crowds are expected to meet if not exceed Wednesday night’s attendance at the Pennsylvania-Nevada game, which topped 34,000. “That’s 6,000 more than last year,” Little League World Series security director Jim Ferguson says.
The 72-acre Little League facility in Williamsport, Pa., is equipped to handle that, Ferguson says. Not only has Little League enlisted a boatload of HD Axis Communications surveillance cameras to monitor the facility, but Ferguson said plenty of law enforcement officers are on the ground, as well.
While security professionals are there to monitor the crowd, which Ferguson, who’s monitored Little League games for 24 years now, reports are generally respectful, they’re also there to protect the kids who are playing. Sports Illustrated cover star Davis has been the standout centerpiece of this year’s tournament, but Ferguson says Little League security is more than equipped to handle the extra attention.
“Certainly, she draws a crowd,” he says, adding, “There’s always somebody in the location.” Teams that don’t get as much attention are covered too, Ferguson emphasizes. “We do take precautions for all the teams. … I’m concerned about one person or I’m concerned about 1,000.”
“Obviously with a local team in the tournament [Williamsport is about a three-hour drive from Philadelphia], we tend to get larger crowds,” Ferguson says, referring to the Taney Dragons. “So far we’ve been over last year’s attendance almost every night.” More than 350,000 people attended the Little League World Series in 2013. “We’re going to easily break that number,” Ferguson announces.
As the tournament continues, Little League officials expect the crowds to increase, especially if the Taney Dragons move on to face the Las Vegas Mountain Ridge squad again on Saturday in the U.S. Final. Ferguson said he’s expecting for 45,000 to 60,000 people to attend if Davis hits the pitcher’s mound again, but he is hoping for 100,000. (He was only half kidding.)
To keep it a locally focused event, however, the Taney Dragons are going to have to bring their A-game even without Davis on the pitcher’s mound to tonight’s meet-up with Jackie Robinson West even without the 70 mile-per-hour fastball from Davis. The 13-year-old honor student is ineligible to pitch until Saturday due to Little League pitching rules that limit the strain allowed on a player’s arm.
The Taney Tigers will also have to beat a fearsome Chicago squad, lead by power slugger Pierce Jones, who’s already racked up four home runs. Other Chicago stars to look out for are Joshua Houston, Marquis Jackson and Darion Radcliff, who, much like Davis, lack little in the confidence department. In other words, tonight should be a fantastic match-up.
The game begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT and will be aired on ESPN.