Originally Published: The Washington Post
Des Bieler, Columnist
According to the Sonoma Stompers, there hasn’t been a co-ed professional baseball team since three women played in the 1950’s Negro Leagues. The northern California-based independent squad recently made note of this when announcing that it would become the first team since then to include female players in its lineup.
When the Stompers take the field on Friday, Kelsie Whitmore, a 17-year-old outfielder/pitcher, and Stacy Piagno, a 25-year-old pitcher/infielder, will be in their starting lineup. Whitmore will be in left field and Piagno will take the mound.
According to the Stompers’ general manager, this is no publicity stunt. The two women will remain with the team indefinitely, and, immediate starts aside, will have to earn their playing time.
“This isn’t a one-day event,” Sonoma GM Theo Fightmaster told MLB.com. “That’s been done a dozen times. Let’s give women a chance to be part of a team, let’s give women a chance to play against men. What will they learn? What have they not been coached because they haven’t had the same coaching as boys? I remember being really disappointed with my sister’s coaches because they coached the girls a lot different than how I was coached.”
“They’re going to play however much they earn,” Fightmaster added. “They are not going to be in the starting lineup every night so we can sell more tickets. It’s a big game on July 1 and they’ll both be in the lineup, and after that we’ll see what their performance dictates.”
If this sounds like it has the makings of a Hollywood movie, then it might not be completely surprising that the impetus for the signings came from a legendary director: Francis Ford Coppola. His winery, Virginia Dare, entered into a partnership with the nearby team, and Coppola pitched the idea to Fightmaster.
“My family would play co-ed baseball games and inevitably the star player would always be an aunt who could run and hit and that made the games so much more fun,” Coppola said in a statement. “When watching Major League Baseball, I always wondered why there couldn’t be a co-ed team. It’s the one major sport in which weight and strength come less into play. So when my Sonoma winery became involved with the Stompers, I had the opportunity to turn this thought into a reality and recruit these amazing women capable of playing alongside men.”
“When Francis tells you to try, you try,” Fightmaster told MLB.com.
Both Whitmore and Piagno are set to play for Team USA this fall in the Womens’ Baseball World Cup, which will be held in South Korea. Whitmore, who recently graduated from high school, will also attend Cal State Fullerton on a softball scholarship. Piagno, who no-hit Puerto Rico at the 2015 Pan Am Games, was a college softball player at the University of Tampa.
Even though the Stompers came into existence in 2014, this is not the first time they have made history. That year, former MLB star Bill Lee started a game for Sonoma and became, at age 67, the oldest person to get a professional win.
In 2015, Stompers pitcher Sean Conroy became the first openly gay professional baseball player. He made his first start on the team’s Pride Night, throwing a complete game shutout as his teammates wore rainbow-striped socks.
“While many believe it’s only a matter of time before we see a woman playing in the MLB, I’ve learned over the past several months that there are many steps in between where we are and where we should be in terms of women in this sport,” Fightmaster said in a statement. “We hope this sends a message to the rest of the baseball world that there is room for women and girls in this game – from Little League to the Major Leagues.”