The Sonoma Stompers will be the first professional team to have women on the field since the 1950s. Beginning tomorrow, the Stompers wil be starting 17 year old Kelsie Whitmore in left field while 25 year old Stacy Piagno will be pitching.
Will this be a one time event or the start of a major movement to get more women on the field?
“This isn’t a one-day event. 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.”
But how exactly did the team end up in a position to sign multiple women players, including one that’s just 17 years old? It started with Francis Ford Coppola.
During a meeting with Coppola and his wife at their vineyard in Geyserville, Calif., the director told Fightmaster of his hope to have co-ed baseball teams. Though the Stompers GM told Coppola how “crazy and difficult this was going to be,” Coppola still wanted to try and the two made made a deal to put out a three-year search to make it happen. “When Francis tells you to try, you try,” Fightmaster said.
From there, the Stompers GM dove into the world of women’s baseball. A friend who scouts for the D-backs put the Stompers in touch with Justine Siegal, the first female coach in the Majors.
Fightmaster was quickly directed toward Kelsie Whitmore. He flew out to watch Whitmore’s play highschool ball.
“After spending five minutes with Kelsie and shaking her hand, watching her throw and watching her be around with the guys, I was really comfortable,” he said.
It was even easier once he saw her on the field. With a runner on second base, Fightmaster watched Whitmore field a grounder in left field. Rather than send the runner, the third-base coach already knew and respected Whitmore’s arm and held the runner at third. It was a smart call. “She threw a one-hop throw to the catcher and the guy would have been dead to rights,” Fightmaster said.
After Whitmore took a pitch to the ribs and was “spitting up blood” while at first base during her next at-bat, Fightmaster says he “knew she was tough, knew she had a strong arm. She moved like a baseball player and had a good head on her shoulders.”
From there, Fightmaster’s scouts directed him to the United States Women’s National Team tryouts in North Carolina where they spotted Stacy Piagno once they learned that she no-hit Puerto Rico at the Pan American Games. The team was interested in other players, namely Malaika Underwood and Tamara Holmes, however several of them were unable to leave their jobs and careers for three months or so to go play baseball on the West Coast.
The Stompers are no strangers when it comes to more progressive line of thinking.
Last year they became the first team to cede control to a couple of sabermetrically inclined baseball writers and were the first team to have an openly gay professional player on their roster.
While many teams host LGBTQ pride nights, the Stompers celebrated theirs by moving Sean Conroy from the bullpen to the rotation — his teammates wearing rainbow-colored socks and armbands in support.
Fightmaster made one thing very clear. That while they are here to stay, neither of these ladies will be getting any special treatment.
“Both of these girls are on the roster,” Fightmaster said. “They’re gonna play however much they earn. They are not gonna 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.”
Fightmaster also mentioned that the team may not be done just yet.
No matter the outcome, Piagno and Whitmore aren’t the end of the Stompers’ foray into women’s baseball. With the two leaving at the end of July — Piagno to start her teaching career and Whitmore on a softball scholarship to Cal-State Fullerton — Fightmaster said, “There’s a couple more women we’d like to bring out throughout the season.”
With at least a three-year endeavor with Coppola, Fightmaster hopes to “find a couple more women who come to us and say, ‘Hey I’ve always wanted to play baseball and never had the chance. But here, I have this left-handed knuckleball that no one can hit in my men’s league team that I play on.’ That’s the dream for me — we start letting women and girls realize there’s room for them in the game.”