Next to that garment was the Aug. 25, 2014, Sports Illustrated cover featuring Davis, who was then 13 and had just captivated the country by becoming the first African American girl to pitch in the Little League World Series, and the first to throw a shutout and win a game.
There have been so many celebrity appearances like this one since, something Davis has always vowed would not change her. Now 18 and preparing to leave for college at Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia, she is waving goodbye to a childhood that never felt the same after that magical summer in Williamsport, Pa. Thursday night seemed like an appropriate send-off for that move. She spoke about continuing as a trailblazer for female athletes and her strengthening social consciousness as a young African American woman.
“I just try to be myself. I hope I encourage people just to be themselves, no matter what happens,” Davis said. “But I think it’s pretty cool that I’m in this spot to do this.”
Her sports career took unexpected turns after the Little League World Series — she once planned to play basketball at a major school such as Connecticut, but an ankle injury last year dashed recruiting interest — and she has shifted her focus to playing softball at Hampton, which will mark the first time in her life that she won’t be playing multiple sports. Yet she remains as relevant as ever.
The decision to attend Hampton, at least according to her mother, is tied to the social education Davis experienced after establishing her newfound fame in 2014. She met President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama later that year in Washington and in 2015 took a life-changing 23-day Civil Rights barnstorming trip to the South with her Philadelphia youth baseball team, the Anderson Monarchs. The team traveled in a 1947 black-and-white Flxible Clipper bus, the same type of vehicle Negro League players traveled in. They met with civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), who recounted the story of marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and others over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Those were the kind of stories on the trip that changed Davis’s young life.
“Going on that tour, I think that actually really opened my eyes up,” Davis said. “I knew about slavery and civil rights before, but it took it to a deeper note. … I think once that happened I paid attention to things that were going on around the world that I hadn’t paid attention to before.”
Davis encountered some ugly moments in the world in the wake of her newfound fame. She displayed grace later in 2015, after a college baseball player, Joey Casselberry of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, attacked her accomplishments at the Little World Series and called her a “slut” in a tweet. After Bloomsburg kicked Casselberry off the team for the incident, Davis emailed the school’s president to ask that he be reinstated.
Davis continued her social education when she visited Hampton last year, spending some time underneath the school’s Emancipation Oak, a historic tree where the South’s first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation had taken place in 1863.
“It just felt like home,” Davis said.
Her home life in Philadelphia had changed significantly after the Little League World Series. From age 7 to 14, she had a childhood. It ended that summer. “That eighth grade summer … I couldn’t ride my bike with my friends,” she said, and for all her fame and growing influence, there were more rough patches once she entered high school.
“There were times when she would tell me, like: ‘I don’t want to do this. This is not what I asked for,’ ” said Davis’s mother, Lakeisha McLean. “I used to feel sorry for her sometimes. We would be in the mall, and people would run up to her, and she would be like, Mom. We used to go places, and it would be 100 degrees, and she had a hoodie on, a hat on, so nobody would recognize her.”
She grew more comfortable with her fame, and she celebrated and explored her name in a college essay when she applied to Hampton. She plans to major in communications and has ambitions of one day hosting her own sports show.
“We’re starting to see women’s NFL refs. We’re starting to see assistant coaches in the NBA and NFL. So there’s no reason why she can’t hit the ground running once she’s out of school with her sports media degree, with her own show, and be a legitimate, authoritative voice from the beginning,” said Susan Reyburn, who curated the Baseball Americana exhibit at the Library of Congress and helped arrange Davis’s visit Thursday. “I think she’s going to represent the naturalness of more and more women finding those careers early on, and planning on it as a kid.”
As the players streamed out of the exhibit on Thursday night, Davis exhaled and prepared to introduce a showing of the film “A League of Their Own,” which she first watched as a young child.
A couple of admirers asked to take a photograph with her, next to her Sports Illustrated cover, before she was asked by one of them: Does 2014 feel like a long time ago?
“It does, and it doesn’t,” Davis said. She paused, before adding: “It goes by fast. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that it happened.”