Before Mo’ne Davis, the most famous female pitchers were Olympic champion softball players such as Jennie Finch and Lisa Fernandez.
Finch and Fernandez took notice of the 13-year-old star of the Little League World Series.
“She’s breaking down barriers,” Finch said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s so exciting to see her not only make it this far, but shine on this big stage. A lot of young girls I’m sure are looking up to her and watching her.”
There are parallels. Let’s start with women striking out men.
Finch is known by baseball fans for making Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols look foolish in the batter’s box. Finch’s 2011 book was titled “Throw Like A Girl.”
Fernandez said “throw like a girl” used to feel like a putdown, but that women have come such a long way — boosted by softball being part of the Olympics from 1996 through 2008 — that the phrase is now jocular.
“It doesn’t have any relevance anymore,” said Fernandez, the greatest pitcher in Olympic history who won three gold medals.
Fernandez pointed to added respect, evidenced with one of her Olympic teammates, Jessica Mendoza, now working as an analyst for ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.”
Davis’ baseball days appear numbered. She has said she prefers basketball long-term.
“I’m a little bummed about that,” said Fernandez, an assistant softball coach at UCLA. She has seen women’s high school baseball players transition to softball and play collegiately.
Throwing motions in baseball and fast-pitch softball are completely different — and so are the objects they’re hurling, of course. The Taney Dragons ace could be a shortstop or third baseman in softball. Her overhand arm strength suits those positions.
“There’s nothing to say that she couldn’t [be a softball player],” Fernandez said. “There’s one thing they say you can’t teach, and that’s arm strength and velocity. That’s an impressive gift that she has.”
The sport of softball failed in a joint bid with baseball to get back into the Olympics last year, losing an International Olympic Committee vote to wrestling.
The Women’s Softball World Championship is taking place in the Netherlands right now (the U.S. is 5-0 with a 37-3 run differential and three mercy-rule wins).
Fernandez remembers the first U.S. Olympic softball team in 1996. A majority of that roster grew up playing baseball, she guessed, because softball wasn’t as widespread.
Whether it’s baseball, softball or basketball, Fernandez is excited about Davis’ exposure.
“It’s only going to help women’s athletics,” she said.