Welcome to a special podcast and blog brought to you by The Sports Virus – Coed Baseball: A Success in Sonoma, California
The Sonoma Stompers made history on July 1, 2016 by becoming the first professional coed baseball team since the Negro Leagues in the 1950’s. The game, which featured Stacy Piagno on the mound and Kelsie Whitmore in the outfield became a national story. On July 22, additional history was made when Anna Kimbrell joined the team. She started behind the plate with Whitmore on the mound and formed the first female battery in pro ball in nearly 70 years.
On July 26 The Sports Virus chatted with Stacy, Kelsie and Anna about their experience playing pro ball for the first time.
The Back Story
In an effort to promote the recruitment, development and advancement of women in baseball, Francis Ford Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery in association with the Sonoma Stompers actively searched for the best women baseball players in the United States to come and join the team.
“My family would play coed 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,” said Francis Ford Coppola. “When watching major league baseball, I always wondered why there couldn’t be a coed 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.”
Joe Castellano has served as a baseball consultant on the project and conducted the player search with Stompers General Manager Theo Fightmaster. Castellano provides an inside look at the recruitment process.
SAN RAFAEL, CA-April 1, 2016
“Who’s this?” read the text message from Kelsie Whitmore. It was my first contact with the young lady who would help the Stompers make big news exactly three months later. I made sure she didn’t think this was an “April Fool” joke, explaining that we were interested in coming to watch her play in one of her high school games and there was a good possibly that we would invite her to play some pro baseball this summer. Justine Siegal (baseballforall.com) identified Kelsie as a woman who would probably be interested in playing for us among a group of players from Team USA.
Kelsie put me in touch with Daniel Franklin, her coach at Temecula Valley High School in Temecula, California and I set up a date for us to go watch her play.
TEMECULA, CA-May 5, 2016
Cinco De Mayo is a time of celebration. But, for the Temecula Valley Bears baseball team it marked one week to go in a very long season. They were on the way to a 3-21 record, including an 11-game losing streak to finish the schedule.
We arrived at the field and watched Kelsie, a senior, interact with her teammates. You could tell they had a lot of fun together despite the rough won/loss record. The first thing I noticed about Kelsie was the handshake – very strong. She was supremely confident and comfortable in her surroundings.
We interviewed her and one of her teammates, Simon Rangel, also a senior, before the game. He said that when Kelsie first joined the team, the boys weren’t skeptical about her for long. They realized she could play right away when they struck out against her.
Kelsie started in left field for the Bears that day against Murrieta Valley High (she only made one pitching appearance this season, but is one of the pitchers for Team USA). We noticed on a base hit to left field that a runner was held up at third base, not willing to take a risk against her good arm.
Kelsie’s dad Scott chatted with us the entire game and told us about her athletic ability. She hits a golf ball 270 yards! Defensive Player of the Year as a goalkeeper on the soccer team. A softball scholarship is waiting from Cal State Fullerton even though she has rarely played softball.
At the plate in her first plate appearance of the game against hard throwing Ben Moralez, Kelsie was drilled in the ribs. After she reached first base she started to spit up blood. The trainer checked her out and she stayed in the game. Tough kid.
When we left Temecula, I knew we had someone who would be perfect for this opportunity. Once the details of her eligibility could be worked out with Cal State Fullerton she was inked to a deal.
CARY, NC-June 10-12, 2016
High 90-degree temperatures and high humidity made for a sweaty three days at the USA Baseball complex, where we saw the open tryout for Team USA. A team that would compete in the 2016 women’s baseball World Cup in South Korea would be chosen from this pool of under 100 players, the best the United States has to offer.
There was a clear separation between the best players on the team and the ones scrambling for a spot. Unfortunately for us, several of the best players were not going to be available. Whether it was LHP Sarah Hudek believed to be the only female playing college baseball last season (Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana) or star SS Jade Gortarez (softball scholarship at University of Texas), conflicts stood in the way.
I spoke to catcher Anna Kimbrell before the USA tryouts and she was interested if she could make it work with her job as a groundskeeper in Birmingham, Alabama.
42-year-old Oakland, California native Tamara Holmes has been playing baseball longer than anyone on the field here. In fact, she was on the Colorado Silver Bullets back in 1996. 20 years ago she hit the first and only home run in Silver Bullets history. That power was still evident in Cary. She was unable to play for the Stompers this season because of her job running a cross fit and Olympic lifting gym.
Stacy Piagno threw a no-hitter at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto for the US against Puerto Rico. She didn’t pitch the first day of the tryouts, but I noticed her excellent and accurate arm playing third base. The next day we saw her pitch with a big-breaking, knuckle-curve that was buckling some knees. Piagno told us she would be interested in playing in Sonoma and it could work out great since she is transitioning into a teaching career and has time to play in the summer. One of her teaching credential tests came on June 30 in Jacksonville, Florida. In order to make our “history-making” game Stacy would have to fly to the Bay Area late that night to be in uniform for the 6 pm game the next day.
SONOMA, CA-July 1, 2016
Game day was a media frenzy at Arnold Field in Sonoma. A day after Whoopi Goldberg mentioned the game on The View, media members nationally and locally were there to report on the event.
Stacy was the starting pitcher and worked 2+ innings allowing 4 runs but only 2 earned. Kelsie started in left field and went 0 for 1 with a walk. The first pitch by Stacy was a called strike. Her scoreless first inning ended with a fly ball to Kelsie in left. Kelsie showed good patience in her first plate appearance, drawing a walk against a pitcher throwing 92 miles an hour.
It was a great day and I really enjoyed doing play-by-play of the game with Stompers announcer Tim Livingston providing color, Kate Rooney doing fantastic reports on the field and special guest Scott Whitmore coming on while watching his daughter.
Check out the archive of the game on BAOSN.TV. Special thanks to Jim Petromilli at BAOSN for getting the game on the air.
Check out some hometown stories on Kelsie and Stacy:
Watch Kelsie’s first pro hit: Kelsie on YouTube
Photos courtesy of Kalman Muller.