Originally Published: The Press Democrat
Lori A. Carter, Reporter
Two female players will join the Sonoma Stompers professional baseball team in July, adding to the list of barriers the Sonoma team has broken.
The Stompers, part of the independent Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, will be the first coed professional baseball team since the 1950s when Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson and Constance Morgan became the first women to play along men in the Negro Leagues, according to the club.
Starting July 1, 17-year-old outfielder-pitcher Kelsie Whitmore of Temecula and 25-year-old pitcher-infielder Stacy Piagno of St. Augustine, Fla., will suit up with the other Stompers.
The visiting San Rafael Pacifics visit for three games, followed by the Pittsburg Diamonds.
Last year, the Stompers made international news when pitcher Sean Conroy became the first openly gay player to ever play at the professional level. He remains with the Stompers.
In 2014, the year the team began, former Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos left-handed pitcher, Bill “Spaceman” Lee threw for the Stompers, becoming the oldest player to win a professional baseball game.
The move to go co-ed comes in part from a sponsorship the team has entered into with Francis Ford Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery in Geyserville.
Openly gay player making historic start for Sonoma Stompers
“In an effort to promote the recruitment, development and advancement of women in baseball,” an announcement from the director’s company said, the team began “ … searching for the best women baseball players in the United States to come and join the team.”
“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 the announcement.
“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 (County) 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.”
Theo Fightmaster, Stompers’ general manager, said there should be more opportunities for women to join the sport professionally.
“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,” he said.
In September, Whitmore and Piagno are set to play for Team USA in the Women’s Baseball World Cup in South Korea.
Whitmore, who recently graduated from Temecula Valley High School, will attend Cal State Fullerton on a softball scholarship next season.
Piagno, who threw a no-hitter for the United States team when they captured a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, played softball at the University of Tampa.
The Stompers opened the season May 31 and were 13-10 going into Tuesday’s game against the Pacifics.
Games begin at 6 p.m. at Arnold Field in Sonoma. For tickets and more information: www.stompersbaseball.com.