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Sonoma Stompers women players Kelsie Whitmore and Stacy Piagno make history

Curiosity was high. The cheers for the two women were even higher. Loud. Piercing even. Just by the mere mention of their names, Kelsie Whitmore and Stacy Piagno, drew the kind of applause Friday night that celebrities draw.

They were women playing in a men’s professional baseball league, the first since a pitcher named Ila Borders played in the independent Northern League in 1997, and before that in the 1950s when Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson and Constance Morgan played alongside men in the Negro Leagues.

And the Sonoma Stompers fans responded accordingly.

“Courage is a great word for what they are doing,” said Michelle Dale of Sonoma, co-founder of a women’s empowerment company. “What they are doing is paving their own path. They are showing girls to follow their heart, to chase your dream.”

Piagno, 25, was the Stompers’ starting pitcher against the San Rafael Pacifics. She made it into the third inning before being lifted with no outs by Sonoma manager Takashi Miyoshi. Piagno worked two innings, gave up five hits, four runs, one earned. She hit one batter and walked two others, with no strikeouts.

“I felt very comfortable out there,” Piagno said. “I was more intimidated by the flight here (She arrived at 4 a.m. Friday from Florida). We (she and Whitmore) kinda comforted each other.”

Whitmore started the game in left field. She walked in the second inning and struck out in the fourth.

“I’m happy with what I did,” said Whitmore, 17. “In that second at-bat I was really on that second fastball and I just missed it. In the end it was just baseball, the game I love.”

The Arnold Field crowd was at capacity. The 900 people cheered every Piagno pitch, especially one fastball that former Sonoma State star Zach Pace swung at and missed. Three TV network affiliates from San Francisco were filming and were joined by representatives from KNBR and National Public Radio.

“It’s not every day you get a chance to play with women,” Stompers pitcher Jose Flores said. “I was a little shocked when I first heard about them coming to the team.”

Flores’ first words to Stompers general manager Theo Fightmaster were reflective of the times.

“Did they get paid more than the guys?” Flores asked. The women did not, only $25 a day for meal money.

Beyond the simple fact that this was a historic moment for women in professional baseball, Miyoshi viewed the event pragmatically, the way a manager should.

“I was surprised at first,” he said. “The only thing I wondered about is how they could put up with the speed.”

Miyoshi was not only referring to the speed of the pitches but also the overall pace of the game, the throws to bases, the base running, chasing down fly balls. Piagno thought it was necessary for fans as well as the players to look at women playing baseball in an honest light.

“We are not going to overpower batters,” said Piagno, a right-hander who along with Whitmore is on the roster for Team USA that will play this September in the Women’s Baseball World Cup in South Korea. “That’s just not realistic. I’m not going to throw 97 (mph). My job is to keep the ball down, keep it low. When we hit, we don’t have to hit home runs. Just get base hits.”

Both women are seen as role models, but Piagno was so immersed in the moment she didn’t give herself the luxury of reflection.

“Yes, I guess so, if I stop to think about it,” Piagno said. “But I haven’t stopped to think about it. It really hasn’t hit me yet.”

Whitmore felt the moment probably because, at 17, she had to ask her parents’ permission. “I would have talked them into it if they said no,” she said. “It’s like no one forced me to be here. I wanted to be here.

“I believe I can be a role model for some people. When I grew up I didn’t have a role model to look up to. It’s always been my dream to play in the big leagues. I’m a Yankee fan but I’m also a Padre fan too because I grew up in San Diego.”

Whitmore has never played fast-pitch softball. She always has played baseball and thinks of herself only that way.

“I’ve always been a baseball player,” said Whitmore as she posed with a sign drawn by Rebecca Kee of San Francisco. Read the placard: “Dirt In The Skirt.” She then signed the placard.

To contact Bob Padecky email him?at bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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