WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Rob Manfred didn’t wait long before setting the record straight:
“Let’s get this out of the way,” he said. “I wasn’t any good. I had nothing.”
The newly elected commissioner of Major League Baseball was referring to his own skill set from 1968 to 1970, when he played Little League in Rome, N.Y.
His arm strength appeared decent enough Wednesday night.
Manfred threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Mountain Ridge as the West champions met the Mid-Atlantic champions from Philadelphia and their star pitcher, Mo’ne Davis.
Mountain Ridge won 8-1, advancing to the U.S. championship game Saturday.
Manfred made the trip from New York to watch Davis, whose star status in the past week has risen to implausible heights.
She pitched 2 1/3 innings Wednesday, allowing three runs on six hits while walking one and striking out six.
“Fifty years ago, there would have been a list as long as your arm of things that women supposedly couldn’t do, and today they can do every one of them,” Manfred said at a pregame news conference. “I’m not betting against the gender. (Davis) is a great story for Little League and a great story for diversity and equality. We should embrace it and hope that she continues to develop.”
One of Manfred’s closest friends in baseball is Dave Montgomery, president of the Philadelphia Phillies. It was Montgomery who was tossing around sheets with statistics and stories on them at the recent MLB owner meetings.
“I thought all the stuff was about the Phillies,” Manfred said. “It was all Little League stuff and things about Mo’ne. She is pretty special. I think she has proven that.”
It’s important for Manfred to be here, to be seen, to continue pushing the envelope of trying to engage a younger audience for his sport, something that is sorely needed.
“We think it’s crucial to commit resources, energy and time to the development of the game, particularly in the inner cities,” Manfred said. “We think of our youth participation programs as umbrella programs — male, female, black, white, rich, poor — we want kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds playing our game.
“Programs like Little League baseball are at the top of our list for making the game inclusive for everyone. We need kids to be taken to games by their parents and grandparents, those who can help teach them the game. That is crucial.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.