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Sonoma Stompers Baseball Team Makes History With Female Players

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, anyone familiar with minor league baseball knows that teams will do just about anything to get fans in the stands. Just last month, the New Orleans Zephyrs had a lightsaber giveaway night.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And The Fresno Bees had bromance night. We don't have to explain that any further. You get the idea.

SIEGEL: The Sonoma Stompers are no different. Former big leaguer Bill Spaceman Lee became, at age 67, the oldest pitcher to win a pro game after pitching five innings for the Stompers in 2014.

MCEVERS: And tonight, they will stand out again when they field the first co-ed pro squad in more than 60 years. Here's Stompers vice president and general manager, Theo Fightmaster.

THEO FIGHTMASTER: Every organization, every business, every team is trying to do something to differentiate itself and gain an advantage. And now we've got two utility players who can both pitch. I think we'll have a competitive advantage.

SIEGEL: That competitive advantage is 17-year-old outfielder Kelsie Whitmore and 25-year-old pitcher Stacy Piagno.

MCEVERS: Both are members of the USA women's baseball team, so it shouldn't have been that big a surprise when the Stompers came calling. But for Piagno, it definitely was.

STACY PIAGNO: Yeah, for me, I was just kind of like, OK, yeah, you know, sounds good. And I was probably like, probably won't happen, but sounds good. You know, I'll - I'll-just-answer-your-interview type of thing. And then, honestly, like, the more I started talking to Theo and everyone and the more I really started thinking about it, I'm like, you know, why not?

SIEGEL: Indeed, Kelsie Whitmore says she's always wanted to give playing at this level a shot. And just being in the dugout with her teammates will be a huge help.

KELSIE WHITMORE: Being surrounded by these guys who have played at higher levels than this is great because I get - I get more, you know, feedback and information in, like - in, like, how to be a better ballplayer.

MCEVERS: Theo Fightmaster says the response to signing Piagno and Whitmore has been really positive. But, of course, a few have called this a stunt. Fightmaster admits, yeah, having two women on the roster has been good for business, but it's not a stunt.

FIGHTMASTER: They're going to be here tomorrow, and they're going to be here the day after and the day after that and the day after that. And they are part of this team. And they're going to get an opportunity to earn playing time based on their performances. And it's not affirmative action. It's not a one-game appearance - come on and see a woman pitch. This is two talented young women who are also really good at baseball.

SIEGEL: And, he says, his independent Stompers could prompt big league teams to sign women of their own.

FIGHTMASTER: Maybe we can give an organization that's maybe on the edge of this enough courage to say, yeah, look, it worked here. Let's try it up here now.

MCEVERS: Both Piagno and Whitmore will start tonight for the Stompers against the San Rafael Pacifics in northern California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.