Scott Whitmore stood along the concourse on a recent spring night watching the ultimate inning of a Staten Island FerryHawks home game wind down when a Latest York City police officer approached him from the third-base side.
“After the sport,” the officer said sheepishly, “you think that I can get your daughter’s autograph?”
Sure, Whitmore chuckled, though he knew the receiving line can be long. Outside of a handful of Yankees and Mets stars, essentially the most famous ballplayer in Latest York this summer might well be Staten Island’s pioneering two-way player, Kelsie Whitmore.
Standing 5 feet 6 inches, with dark chestnut hair that unfurls past her uniform number, she is unimaginable to mistake within the FerryHawks’ dugout, warming up on the sphere or signing autographs. She is an unusual sight even in a league known for taking possibilities and pushing buttons.
The Atlantic League of Skilled Baseball, widely considered the best level amongst baseball’s independent minor leagues, has hosted the previous All-Stars Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. But a girl had never began an Atlantic League game, nor pitched in a single, until Whitmore, who has done each. She’s the primary woman to play in a league partnered with Major League Baseball since Lee Anne Ketcham and Julie Croteau joined the Maui Stingrays of the Hawaii Winter Baseball league in 1994.
That league was in regards to the equivalent of Class A minor-league ball, whereas the Atlantic is considered closer to Class AAA, one step below the massive leagues. At 24, Whitmore, a former Cal State Fullerton softball star, is making a run at sticking in skilled baseball.
For Whitmore, that represents a return to normal. She played softball since it was the one way she could earn a university scholarship. But she is — at all times has been — a baseball player, and he or she shares most of the telltale traits. She wears her cap pulled low, swings a 32.5-ounce bat, curses impulsively and spits reflexively.
The tattoos on her left forearm contain Filipino imagery — an homage to her mother’s heritage — including a string of crocodile teeth, representing an aggressive hunter lurking under a quiet, tranquil facade.
“It symbolizes me,” she said, “as an individual and a player.”
Whitmore has been surprising unsuspecting baseball men since she was a young person. She was the one girl on the varsity baseball team at Temecula Valley High School in Southern California, and at 17 was one in every of two who were signed to play professionally for the Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific Association, an independent league.
Now, she is on her own in a league crammed with former major leaguers, on a team managed by a former Mets player, Edgardo Alfonzo.
There are other women carving paths in baseball, a male-dominated sport. This spring, Rachel Balkovec of the Tampa Tarpons became the primary woman to administer in affiliated baseball. In March, Alexis Hopkins was drafted by the Atlantic League’s Kentucky Wild Health Genomes to serve because the team’s bullpen catcher.
But Whitmore, who has twice began in left field and made 4 appearances on the mound, is making her case that she belongs on an expert baseball diamond as a player.
“That’s a groundbreaking event for us,” M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred said of Whitmore. “It gives you an honest-to-God, real-life example of what we’ve been saying for years, aspirationally: Some day, we’re going to have women playing professionally for us.”
A Ponytail Protest
After a recent night game was postponed due to weather, Whitmore was on the stadium with some teammates figuring out and negotiating who was going to make the run for chop cheese sandwiches — a bodega specialty that has grow to be an obsession within the FerryHawks’ clubhouse.
She suddenly stopped walking to work out tips on how to leap across a roughly eight-foot-wide puddle that had formed on the concrete, which she cleared with ease. “I did long jump in highschool,” Whitmore shrugged.
Her athletic profession has also included soccer, lacrosse, flag football and volleyball. She will be able to clear 280 yards along with her driver and dead lifts 400 kilos.
Was there any sport she hasn’t tried?
“Cheer,” Whitmore said.
Scott Whitmore, a physical-education teacher, said baseball was his daughter’s old flame. At age 6, Scott brought Kelsie to register for Little League, but she refused. She was content playing catch and taking swings within the backyard.
“Finally I said, ‘Why don’t you ought to play with kids your individual age?’” Scott Whitmore said.
It was because she thought she would need to wear her hair in a ponytail. She preferred to go away it long.
Her dad laughed and told her she could wear her hair nonetheless she wanted. It has remained down ever since.
“I assume a part of me was like, if I do have it up, I’ll just be like all the opposite girls,” Whitmore said. “It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t me.”
It’s not unusual for ladies to play Little League. But it surely didn’t take long before Whitmore began to acknowledge just how gendered the constructs were for baseball (boys) and softball (girls).
“You’d hear the doubters,” Scott Whitmore said. “‘Hey, the boys are going to get stronger, and he or she’s not going to have the opportunity to hold with them.’ They said that at age 12, and it never happened.”
Justine Siegal first saw Whitmore pitch when she was 15. Siegal, who was the primary woman to teach for a significant league organization, founded the nonprofit Baseball For All to advertise gender equality in baseball and offer opportunities to women who need to play on youth teams.
From that first introduction, Siegal kept tabs on Whitmore, pondering perhaps she could possibly be the one to interrupt through and advance further in skilled baseball than any woman in a long time.
“She had something special,” Siegal said of Whitmore. “It was clear she had the physical abilities to compete.”
But in highschool, Whitmore wondered if she had the mental stamina to press on.
“I began to get that feeling of, am I not imagined to be here?” Whitmore said. “Do I not belong here? People keep asking me why I’m here, persons are wondering, outsiders are attempting to push me toward a special route. It began to mess with my head.”
Loneliness became an element, too. At all times the one girl, the standout, the outlier. It became draining emotionally, she said.
“You only need to know that feeling of what it’s to slot in,” Whitmore said.
Unable to secure a baseball scholarship, she entered a softball recruiting showcase despite limited experience with the sport. Her athleticism and her baseball instincts proved enough to draw a flood of offers from coaches who thought, inside time, they may mold her right into a star.
She used to recoil on the considered switching to softball. “It just wasn’t what I desired to do,” Whitmore said. “The highschool 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 completely different sport.”
Yet college softball looked more appealing as Whitmore considered that the highlight may not be so focused on her.
“I believed, if I’m going play on a team filled with girls, I’ll know that feeling of not being the one everyone seems to be at all times taking a look at or wanting to vary,” Whitmore said. “Once I stepped on a softball field, I used to be like, ‘OK, cool, I’m finally an element of them.’”
She was still different.
She moved like a baseball player, wore a hat, wore baseball pants. She needed to relearn tips on how to hit, tips on how to judge fly balls, tips on how to swipe bags. Even the atmosphere within the dugout was foreign to her — a roster of women interacted in another way from guys.
After games, she would slip into the batting cages to take cuts against overhand pitchers. In the summertime, after the Fullerton season was over, she pitched for the usA. baseball women’s national team. “I told myself, that 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 construct velocity. When Whitmore arrived, her fastball maxed out somewhat over 70 miles per hour.
“We wanted to get her at the very least into the 80s,” Beimel said in a phone interview. But he was impressed with the movement on her pitches.
Whitmore’s pitching arsenal features a two-seamer, four-seamer, slider, curve — and something else entirely. “It’s this weird knuckleball-changeup she throws,” Beimel said.
Whitmore calls it “the Thing,” and the pitch has grow to be a source of fascination on the FerryHawks. A former teammate Julio Teheran, who previously had pitched for the Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers, had been studying her grip before he recently left for the Mexican League.
Whitmore won’t ever blow skilled hitters away (she now throws within the upper 70s), but Eddie Medina, the FerryHawks’ director of operations who had pushed to sign her, felt Whitmore could keep hitters off-balance.
Her pitching coach, the previous major leaguer Nelson Figueroa, succeeded despite an absence of velocity, and he has helped Whitmore adapt. In her second pitching appearance of the season, she allowed six runs in two-thirds of an inning during a blowout loss. She notched a scoreless inning in a recent appearance on June 5.
Despite the mixed results, fans cheer her name and show as much as see her. Life in baseball means dressing in her own locker room and showering in a facility utilized by the team’s coaches.
But she calls her teammates her “big brothers,” they usually have reciprocated the embrace.
She also has her dad around as a source of comfort and laughter. Scott Whitmore retired in late May, packed the automobile and drove across the country.
He didn’t intend to miss a game. “I’m going to spend your complete summer watching my daughter play baseball.”