Our Game 2: Before Mo’Ne Davis There Was The Gillman Twins

Mo’Ne Davis and the exploits, fate and future of her baseball team’s Little League World Series legacy is now in the hands of the social media machine that idolizes, despises, anoints, creates and crushes superstars, trendsetters and those athletes whose unique accomplishments captivate the masses and transcend sports.

Since becoming the 17th girl to participate in the LLWS and first African-American shorty to do so, every major media outlet from People Magazine to ESPN to The Wall Street Journal have written their take on the girl from Philly, who plays for the Taney Dragons (Pennsylvania),  with the laser fastball, enchanting eyes and self-proclaimed “Clayton Kershaw” hook.


What began as a feel good story and boost for gender equality in youth baseball has snowballed into one of the polarizing topics of the summer. While most news coming from our media outlets these days are disheartening and ugly (Ferguson and the overall brutality of American police forces comes to mind) Davis’ performance at the LLWS is also stealing headlines and capturing everything that is spectacular about America.

Davis’ long-term goals are as ambitious as her current challenges. She’s on a journey that she hopes will culminate in her running the point for Geno Auriemma at UConn and then hooping it up in the WNBA. With the way her popularity has boosted her visibility, it’s a money bet that Davis will  be on the radar of Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports at some point in her blossoming career as well. 

In fact, in a live interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech, Davis said baseball was probably her “third sport” of choice behind basketball and soccer.

I can dig it. But just as Brittany Spears, actor Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake jump started their illustrious entertainment careers with the Mickey Mouse Club and Jennifer Love Hewitt got her start on a TV show called Kids Incorporated, the LLWS will always be the catalyst of the Mo’Ne Davis brand. Davis says her Twitter followers has skyrocketed from 2,000 to 15,000 during this LLWS.


And as Taney advances deeper in the tournament, her legend will continue to grow, but from the looks of things she’ll continue to be a team player.

On Sunday, Davis’ Mid-Atlantic Philly squad pulled out a dramatic 7-6 bottom-of-the-sixth victory over Texas to advance to a Wednesday showdown with Nevada, with the winner to play for the U.S. championship. Davis rested her golden arm, played shortstop and had a hit, walk and RBI, making her just the sixth girl to get a hit in the LLWS. 


I Saw Her Face Before

Truly remarkable indeed, and it’s a novelty on the national youth baseball scene, because the LLWS is the only youth international baseball tournament that is televised around the world by major TV stations. Davis picked a great time to be at the top of her pitching game. No one has ever seen a 13-year-old girl catch wreck at this level – unless, like me, you are from South Jamaica, Queens and between the ages of 30 and 50 and played in the now-defunct Cambria Heights Sports Association.

I’ve seen a Mo’Ne Davis before. In fact, I  played with two of them. Dr.’s Nicole and Monique Gillman were twin sisters on my CHSA Cardinals team from the ages of 10-12. The daughters of a youth baseball coach, Nicole and Monique are now OB/GYN’s. Older brother Cyril was also a diamond-warrior and is currently a master of medicine as well (ER Dr.).

These girls could ball. Monique pitched more than Nicole, but Nicole had a lethal stick and she often played catcher when her sister tossed. How many twin sister pitcher-backstop combos have you ever seen in your life in youth baseball? They were also swift on the bases and among the best fielders in the division. We came in first place every season we played together and shared all-star honors a couple of times.

Looking back, it didn’t really matter to me that they were girls. I totally respected and judged them on their baseball merits. I mean, I had a crush on Nicole. I felt she was a real cutie and the way she had dirt caked all on her face from being behind the plate was appealing to me at 10. She went all out too. What can I say? I feel lucky to have played with them.

“You know I didn’t really see it as a big deal playing with the boys,” said Monique, who could toss some hot mustard off that mound in her day. “There were no other options. We played because our brother played. We continued to play because we weren’t laughed out of the park.”

That’s the same reason Davis plays baseball. She’s good at it and her play commands the respect of the opposition and spectators.

“When I saw her, says Monique, “I was like man she is way better then I was. I was in awe.”

“My pops said if you are good nobody will have anything to say, she added. “Going forward I wasn’t afraid to tackle anything. But don’t get me wrong , I knew after a certain age playing with y’all boys wasn’t going to be cute… after a while there is a big difference in physical strength when competing against boys.”

Nicole added: “At a young age on the smaller field – in my opinion – strength and size between girls and boys are fairly equal. I think we knew eventually we wouldn’t be able to be competitive with boys. Plus as athletes you explore other sports. We eventually tried tennis, track and softball.”

All these years later I can see the superior value in having the twins on my baseball team. They led boys and assumed a leadership role similar to the one Mo’Ne Davis has been thrust into; and handled it with comparable skill, grace and effectiveness. This entire LLWS experience has given me flashbacks of my Cambria Heights Little League days. I was fortunate enough to be able to play with two bad-balling baseball girls. All of the boys on the team – future fathers and husbands –  benefited from the experience because it gave us fairer and more realistic opinions about the capabilities of women as we moved forward in life. I’m one of a fortunate few male baseball lovers who have shared the diamond with genuine girl ground-breakers and champions, who maintain their femininity while confidently competing in a male-dominated sport. 

As a youth baseball coach, I’m always searching for talent. My experiences playing with The Gillman Twins allows me to objectively keep my eyes open for potential male and female ballers. Stories such as these always have a starting point. Before something becomes a passion, you have to get acquainted with its frame work and intricacies.

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was the offical bosslady, way back in the day. From 1953-55 she played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. Johnson is the only women to hold that distinction. She totally understands what the experiences of Davis and The Gillman Sisters represent.

The Gillman’s participation in youth baseball began with their brother. Nicole says that they basically followed in his footsteps throughout life. Their dad would take them to different baseball clinics at Andrew Jackson High School (Now called Campus Magnet) in Cambria Heights, Queens. They would also throw the ball around a lot and eventually caught the baseball bug.

“Cambria Heights didn’t have softball at the time,” Nicole elaborated. “So if you wanted to play it was going to be baseball. Our coach saw us at the clinic and told our father ‘if they want to play I will put them on my team.’ I think it was a big deal to everyone else but for us- we were less dramatic about it.”

“Number one, we always had each other.”

Twin power is an advantage Mo’Ne Davis doesn’t have, but she’s eatablished a great rapport with her teammates. She downplays the magnitude of her accomplishments the same way The Gillman Twins do.

“Number two,” she said. “…our father didn’t make a big to do about it. His take was like if you wanna play –play !”

“Our coach didn’t make a big deal about it either. I think he made one comment to the team (Cuz’ he had to refer to the elephant in the room) and I think everyone knew It was about the Cardinals as a team not about two girls being on the team Everybody was gonna get yelled at. He went hard on all of us.”

The Gillman’s were an inspiration then and they are now as African-American women doctors from a predominantly black community filled with social servants and high achievers. 

“When I look at that Philly team – and I see how Davis and her teammates handle all the attention- she appears humble and her teammates don’t appear jealous,” Nicole gushed. “I think a lot of credit needs to go to the coaches. That team is exciting to watch because of her, but also because they are a great team. The whole story line is good for little league baseball, and good for girls. So many good things come out of girls playing sports- whatever sport it is. I could go on all day about that. “

In their days as youth baseballers,  the girls didn’t enjoy an ounce of the fanfare Davis now enjoys. Besides, they accomplished their feats in the late 80’s, so the social media boost wasn’t there and we never made it to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, so the world never got a chance to get a glimpse of The Baseball Twins from Queens, NY, equipped with pony tails, barrettes, sound fundamentals and a fighter’s spirit. A spirit that lives on in Philly funkster Mo’Ne Davis and her rockin’, run through the LLWS.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.