Still an outlier, Kelsie Whitmore just wants to play baseball

Still an outlier, Kelsie Whitmore just wants to play baseball
Written by admin_3fxxacau

Scott Whitmore was standing along the lobby on a recent spring night watching the final inning of a Staten Island FerryHawks home game end when a New York police officer approached him from the side of the third base.

“After the game,” the officer said sheepishly, “do you think I can get your daughter’s autograph?”

Of course, Whitmore chuckled, even though he knew the receiving line would be long. Outside of a handful of Yankees and Mets stars, New York’s most famous baseball player this summer may well be Staten Island’s pioneering two-way player Kelsie Whitmore.

Standing 5ft 6in, with dark brown hair that fanned out beyond his uniform number, it’s impossible to go wrong in the FerryHawks dugout, warming up on the pitch or signing autographs. She’s an unusual sight, even in a league known for taking risks and pushing buttons.

The Atlantic Professional Baseball League, widely considered the top tier among independent minor league baseball, was home to former All-Stars Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, and Rickey Henderson. But a woman had never started an Atlantic League game, or pitched in one, until Whitmore, who did both. She is the first woman to play in a league partnered with Major League Baseball since Lee Anne Ketcham and Julie Croteau joined the Maui Stingrays of Hawaii Winter Baseball League in 1994.

This league was roughly the equivalent of a Class A ball, whereas the Atlantic would be closer to Class AAA, a cut below the big leagues. At 24, Whitmore, a former Cal State Fullerton softball star, is trying to stay in professional baseball.

For Whitmore, this represents a return to normalcy. She played softball because it was the only way to win a college scholarship. But she is — always has been — a baseball player, and she shares many telling traits. She wears her cap down, swings a 32.5 ounce bat, swears impulsively and reflexively spits.

The tattoos on his left forearm contain Filipino imagery – a tribute to his mother’s heritage – including a chain of crocodile teeth, depicting an aggressive hunter hiding beneath a calm and quiet facade.

“It symbolizes me,” she said, “as a person and a player.”

Whitmore has been surprising unsuspecting baseball men since he was a teenager. She was the only girl on the varsity baseball team at Temecula Valley High School in Southern California, and at age 17 she was one of two signed to play professionally for the Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific Association. , an independent league.

Now she’s on her own in a league full of former major leaguers, on a team led by former Mets player Edgardo Alfonzo.

There are other women making their way into baseball, a male-dominated sport. This spring, Rachel Balkovec of the Tampa Tarpons became the first female manager in affiliate baseball. In March, Alexis Hopkins was drafted by the Kentucky Wild Health Genomes of the Atlantic League to serve as the team’s bullpen catcher.

But Whitmore, who started twice in left field and made four appearances on the mound, argues that she belongs in a professional baseball field as a player.

“This is a groundbreaking event for us,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said of Whitmore. “It gives you an honest-to-God, real-life example of what we’ve been saying for years, with aspiration: one day we’ll have women playing professionally for us.”

After a recent night game was postponed due to weather, Whitmore was at the stadium with teammates working and trading who was going to race for chopped cheese sandwiches – a bodega specialty that has become an obsession in the FerryHawks clubhouse.

She suddenly stopped walking to figure out how to jump through an approximately eight-foot-wide puddle that had formed on the concrete, which she cleared with ease. “I did long jump in high school,” Whitmore said with a shrug.

His sports career also includes soccer, lacrosse, flag football and volleyball. She can travel 280 meters with her driver and lift 400 pounds.

Is there a sport she hasn’t tried?

“Bravo,” Whitmore said.

Scott Whitmore, a physical education teacher, said baseball was his daughter’s first love. At age 6, he tricked Kelsie into enrolling in Little League, but she refused. She was content to play catch and make swings in the garden.

“Finally I said, ‘Why don’t you want to play with kids your age?'” Scott Whitmore said.

It was because she thought she should wear her hair in a ponytail. She preferred to leave it for a long time.

Her dad laughed and told her she could do her hair any way she wanted. It has remained low ever since.

“I guess part of me was like if I had it, I’d be like all the other girls,” Whitmore said. “It was not comfortable. It was not me.

It’s not uncommon for girls to play Little League. But it wasn’t long before Whitmore began to recognize how gendered constructs were for baseball (boys) and softball (girls).

“You would hear the skeptics,” said Scott Whitmore. “‘Hey, the boys are going to get stronger, and she won’t be able to hang out with them.’ They said that at 12, and it never happened.

Justine Siegal first saw Whitmore pitch when she was 15. Siegal, who was the first woman to coach for a major league organization, founded the nonprofit Baseball for All to promote gender equality in baseball and provide opportunities for girls who want to play in baseball. youth teams. .

Since that first introduction, Siegal has kept tabs on Whitmore, thinking she might be the one to break through and advance further in professional baseball than any woman in decades.

“She had something special,” Siegal said of Whitmore. “It was clear she had the physical ability to compete.”

But in high school, Whitmore wondered if she had the mental stamina to keep going.

“I started getting this feeling of, am I not supposed to be here?” said Whitmore. “Don’t I belong here? People keep asking me why I’m here, people wondering, strangers trying to push me down another path. It started to bother me. »

Loneliness also became a factor. Always the only girl, the most remarkable, the most aberrant. It became emotionally draining, she said.

“You just want to know what it’s like to fit in,” Whitmore said.

Unable to secure a baseball scholarship, she entered a softball recruiting showcase despite having limited experience in the game. Her athleticism and baseball instincts proved enough to attract a flood of offers from coaches who thought that in time, they could turn her into a star.

She used to cringe at the thought of switching to softball. “It just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Whitmore said. “The high school softball team wanted me to play for them. To be honest, that’s like telling me to go play soccer. In my head, it’s a totally different sport.

Still, college softball seemed more appealing as Whitmore felt the spotlight might not have been as focused on her.

“I thought if I’m going to play on a team full of girls, I’m going to know that feeling of not being the one everyone looks up to or wants to change,” Whitmore said. “When I walked onto a softball field, I was like, ‘OK, cool, I’m finally part of them. “”

She was different again.

She moved like a baseball player, wore a hat, wore baseball pants. She had to relearn how to hit, judge fly balls, slide bags. Even the atmosphere in the dugout was foreign to him – a list of girls interacted differently from boys.

After games, she would slip into the batting cages to take cuts against overhand pitchers. In the summer, after Fullerton’s season ended, she pitched for the United States Women’s National Baseball Team. “I thought to myself, this is just temporary,” Whitmore said of softball.

She also reached out to Joe Beimel, a former big league reliever who opened a training facility in Torrance, Calif., that helps pitchers get up to speed. When Whitmore arrived, her fastball hit just over 70 miles per hour.

“We had to bring it to at least the 80s,” Beimel said in a phone interview. But he was impressed by the movement on his pitches.

Whitmore’s pitching arsenal consists of a double-seam, four-seam, slider, curve – and something else entirely. “It’s this weird knuckleball change that she’s throwing,” Beimel said.

Whitmore calls it “the Thing”, and the terrain has become a source of fascination for the FerryHawks. A former teammate, Julio Teheran, who pitched for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers, had studied his grip before recently leaving for the Mexican League.

Whitmore will never blow up pro hitters (she’s now pitching in her upper 70s), but Eddie Medina, the FerryHawks’ operations manager who pushed to sign her, felt Whitmore could throw hitters off balance.

His pitching coach, former major leaguer Nelson Figueroa, was successful despite a lack of velocity, and he helped Whitmore adapt. In her second pitching appearance of the season, she allowed six runs in two-thirds innings in a blowout loss. She picked up a scoreless run in a recent appearance on June 5.

Despite the mixed results, fans cheer her name and show up to see her. Baseball life means dressing in your own locker room and showering in a facility used by the team’s coaches.

But she calls her teammates her “big brothers,” and they reciprocated.

She also has her father around as a source of comfort and laughter. Scott Whitmore retired at the end of May, packed up the car and drove around the country.

He had no intention of missing a game. “I’m going to spend the whole summer watching my daughter play baseball.”

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