SONOMA (KPIX 5) – Stacy Piagno wanted to extend her baseball career when she moved to Sonoma last summer to play for the Stompers – she ended up making history in the process.
The Stompers are one of four teams in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs that have rosters loaded with former collegiate players trying to catch the eye of a big league scout.
Last July, Piagno and Kelsie Whitmore signed with the Stompers, and became the first female teammates to start a game together with the men.
“When we debuted them, there was a lot of speculation that this was a pure PR stunt,” said Stompers general manager Theo Fightmaster of his detractors.
The product on the diamond alone doesn’t fill the bleachers on a nightly basis at Arnold Field, but Fightmaster hopes that pushing baseball boundaries will help his bottom line and make the game more inclusive at the same time.
Two years ago, pitcher Sean Conroy suited up for the Stompers as the first openly gay baseball player, and Sonoma got national spotlight attention – it had nothing to do with another award-winning bottle of wine.
Then on July 15, more history. Stompers manager Takashi Miyoshi elected to pull Piagno out of the bullpen for her first start of the season.
She pitched seven innings against the Pittsburg Diamonds, allowed only a run, didn’t walk a batter and struck out four. She became the third female pitcher to pick up a win against the men since the 1950s.
“Last year Kelsie and I were recognized for being girls and being her,” Piagno said. “This year, what was so special for me, I actually got recognized for playing and something that I physically had done.”
Whitmore played left field during the historic game, and was in the fray when Piagno got the water jug dumped on her after the 16-1 victory.
“I was honored to be a part of that game,” Whitmore said.
Piagno always preferred playing baseball with the boys instead of softball with the girls. She pitched in little league growing up in Florida and later made the baseball team at Menendez High School in St. Augustine.
Playing with the guys in Sonoma is nothing new.
“There’s a heightened amount of respect for her in this league now,” said catcher Isaac Wenrich who was behind the plate for Piagno’s win. “She went seven innings – there aren’t guys in his league who do that.”
Piagno isn’t lighting up the radar gun with her fastball. She claims her maximum velocity is 80 miles per hour, which is below average in the Pacific Association, but she’s learning the nuances of pitching through accuracy and preparation.
“I had two strikeouts last year and was just happy to have my first strikeout,” she said. “The things that used to make me happy last year aren’t good enough anymore.”
The 25-year-old has plenty to be happy about in her baseball career. In 2015 she threw a no-hitter at the Pan-Am games and won the gold medal with the country’s best female hardball players.
Recognition is coming on a much smaller stage in the wine country. Her male teammates are supportive, but give her good-natured ribbing for all the attention.
“She’s the sister I never wanted,” Wenrich jokingly said after he caught Piagno’s bullpen session.
The Stompers nickname comes from the nearby vineyards in Sonoma, but the team is hoping Piagno’s success on the diamond will stomp out some old baseball conventions.
“The four and five year old boys here look up to Kelsie and Stacy as ball players,” said Fightmaster. “Not women ballplayers, but just ball players. And I think that’s where we’re going to see progress and change.”