Women have long carved out their own path in professional sports, with everything from basketball to soccer leagues present and rising stars in each sport. But one team is not just allowing for women to play professional sports, they are making the teams co-ed.
According to the Washington Post, the Sonoma Stompers, an independent professional baseball team, announced this week that it would be the first team since the 1950s Negro Leagues to allow females to play, thus creating a co-ed team.
Ushering in the new era with the Stompers are two recently-signed females — Kelsie Whitmore and Stacy Piagno — both of whom made their debut with the team on Friday, July 1, according to the Washington Post.
On June 29, WaPost reports that the Stompers officially signed 17-year-old Whitmore, a recent high school grad who will attend Cal State Fullerton on a softball scholarship and a utility player who can play the outfield and take the mound as a pitcher. The team’s other acquisition is 25-year-old pitcher and infielder Piagno, who, WaPost reports, “no-hit Puerto Rico at the 2015 Pan Am Games,” and “was a college softball player at the University of Tampa.”
While the duo have already taken the field, Sonoma General Manager Theo Fightmaster told MLB.com that Whitmore and Piagno are set to be with the team indefinitely, says WaPost.
“This isn’t a one-day event,” he said, according to WaPost. “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.”
However, Fightmaster added that their performance in the July 1 game will determine how much they appear in the lineup going forward, says WaPost. While the team is making headlines for the move to include females on the team, Fightmaster shared that the idea to do so came from iconic Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola, whose winery Virginia Dare “entered into a partnership with the nearby team, and Coppola pitched the idea to Fightmaster,” reports WaPost.
Coppola explained in a statement the impetus behind his idea this way, according to WaPost:
“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. “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.”
Although the Stompers’ efforts to make a more inclusive team are just the first step in a larger process, Fightmaster said that the organization is hopeful that the team can ignite change.
“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.”