By Andrew Porter and Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Who says urban kids can’t — or don’t want to play little league baseball?
For the Taney Dragons, the Pennsylvania State Little League Champions, they say, ask us.
Taney has big dreams.
“It’s cool. And a great opportunity to compete,” says Eli Simon, the team’s left fielder.
For the first time ever (established in 1948), the Pennsylvania State Little League Champion is from urban Philadelphia, as the Taney Dragons of Center City defeated Allegheny County’s Collier on Sunday, 6-4.
These team members are all thirteen, going into eighth grades at schools across the city. Neighborhood schools, charter schools, academies. They pride themselves in good grades, at the urging of their parents, and good play on the field.
The stakes just got higher.
These next ten days, the Taney Dragons of Philadelphia will begin chasing the Little League National Championship, by way of the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Bristol, Connecticut.
“We’ve been playing well together. We know each other for a long time. It will be great to see how far this team can go,” said Tai Cummings, who plays center field.
Ty Shanahan, right fielder, describes the experience as “cool to represent the city.” He says it’s harder as an inner-city team because baseball resources like playing and practice fields are limited.
For team manager, Alex Rice, the journey is about kids who know each other, and like each other, as they play the game they love. But as the team advances, Rice also worries about finances.
“With the team winning the State, the budget is stretched. Just going to Bristol will cost the team an additional $20,000.”
Rice is grateful for a fundraising pitch from a newspaper columnist which surprisingly to him, generated nearly half that amount in just a day or two.
The diversity of players covers lots of bases – neighborhoods of the city, racial heritage and even gender.
Taney’s pitching ace is also the only girl on the team, Mo’ne Davis. She and pitcher J.J. Richardson register pitch speeds in the mid-70’s.
“We want to put the Taney name out there,” said Mo’ne. “We want people to know that inner-city kids can make a difference in the baseball industry.”
The secret to her winning pitching style, she says, is to “just throw strikes. “
With just two years in the Little League, the Taney Dragons’ success has generated some sour grapes from competitors. J.J. Richardson is tall. A North Jersey team questioned his age eligibility and wanted to see his birth certificate after the game.
J.J. says, “It happens, because I’m tall.”
He’s humble about being good.
For the moment, all eyes are on Bristol and the Mid-Atlantic Regionals.
By winning the Pennsylvania State Title Taney has advanced to play in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament, facing the state champions from Delaware, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York.
Taney begins Mid-Atlantic play against West Salisbury (Maryland) at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
They know they’ll play four games over the next ten days. They’re hoping for more.
The manager says if anyone is interested in learning more about the team, and making a contribution – they can go to www.taney12ubaseball.weebly.com.
Little leaguers with a big dream that’s waiting in Williamsport.
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