In a historic hire, 17-year-old Kelsie Whitemore and 25-year-old Stacy Piagno have joined the Sonoma Stompers, with positions in the left field and on the mound, respectively.
The Washington Post reports that there hasn’t been a professional co-ed baseball team since three women played in the Negro Leagues of the 1950s. The Stompers have featured other nontraditional players in their line-up before, including a 67-year-old MLB star Bill Lee, who became the oldest person to get a professional win. But they insist that this isn’t a publicity stunt. Sonoma GM Theo Fightmaster told MLB.com:
“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.”
“They’re going to play however much they earn... 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.”
The Sonoma Stompers are in a partnership with Francis Ford Coppola via his winery, and he apparently has some influence on the decision, saying 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.”
Both women are also set to play for Team USA this fall in the Womens’ Baseball World in South Korea, and are obviously amazing players. Controversy over the rules against women playing in the MLB has swirled for a long time, and though Fightmaster says he essentially believes it is possible, women are held back in their development as players by their gender segregation:
“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... 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.”