Kelsey Whitmore catches up with the Staten Island Ferryhawks
Scott Whitmore was standing across Concourse watching the final inning of the Staten Island Ferryhawks home game winddown on a recent spring night when a New York City police officer approached him from the third-base side.
“After the game,” the officer said sheepishly, “do you think I can get your daughter’s autograph?”
Sure, Whitmore laughed, though he knew the receiving line would be long. Outside of a handful of Yankees and Mets stars, the most famous ball player in New York this summer may be Staten Island’s pioneering two-way player Kelsey Whitmore.
Standing 5 feet 6 inches, unbuttoning her uniform number with black chestnut hair, she can’t go wrong with a Ferryhawks dugout, warm up on the field or sign autographs. She is also an extraordinary sight in a league known for taking chances and pushing buttons.
The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball is widely regarded as the highest point in baseball’s independent minor leagues, hosted by former All-Stars Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco and Ricky Henderson. But a woman never started an Atlantic League game or pitched in one until Whitmore, who did both. She was the first woman to play in a league that partnered with Major League Baseball in 1994 after joining Lee Anne Ketchum and Julie Crotto in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League’s Maui Stingrays.
That league was the equivalent of a Class A minor-league ball, but the Atlantic Class is thought to be close to AAA, one step below the big leagues. At the age of 24, Whitmore, a former Cal State Fullerton softball star, is running for admission in professional baseball.
For Whitmore, it represents a return to normalcy. She played softball because it was the only way she could earn a college scholarship. But she is – and always is – a baseball player, and she shares many of the characteristics. She pulls down her cap, swinging a 32.5-ounce bat, giving a sudden curse and spitting reflexively.
The tattoos on her left forearm include a Filipino image – a tribute to her mother’s heritage – including a string of crocodile teeth, representing an aggressive hunter hiding under a quiet, quiet front.
“It symbolizes me,” he said, “as a person and as a player.”
Whitmore has surprised a lot of suspicious 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 was one of two men to sign professionally for the Sonoma Stampers of the Pacific Association, the Independent League.
Now, she’s in a league full of former major leagues on a team managed by former Mets player Edgardo Alfonzo.
There are other women who have carved paths in baseball, a men’s major sport. This spring, Rachel Balkovic of the Tampa Turpens became the first woman to perform in combined baseball. In March, Alexis Hopkins was created by the Atlantic League’s Kentucky Wild Health Genomes to serve as the team’s bullpen catcher.
But Whitmore, who started twice on the left field and appeared four times on the mound, claims to be a professional baseball diamond as a player.
“That was a fantastic event for us,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said of Whitmore. “It gives you an honest-to-God-real-life example, something we’ve been saying for years, with ambition: some day, we’re going to play professionally for ourselves.”
After postponing the recent night’s game due to the weather, Whitmore was in the stadium with some teammates and negotiated who was going to make a run for the Chop Cheese Sandwiches – a Bodega special that has become an obsession with the Ferryhawks clubhouse.
She suddenly stopped walking to figure out how to jump into the nearly eight-foot-wide puddle on the concrete, which she easily cleared. “I did a long jump in high school,” Whitmore snapped.
Her athletic career also includes soccer, lacrosse, flag football and volleyball. She can clear 280 yards with her driver and do deadlifts of 400 pounds.
Is there any sport she hasn’t tried?
“Cheer,” Whitmore said.
Scott Whitmore, a physical education teacher, said baseball was his daughter’s first love. At age 6, Scott brought Kelsey to register for the Little League, but she refused. She was satisfied with catching a swing and taking a swing.
“I finally said, ‘Why don’t you want to play with kids your own age?'” Scott Whitmore said.
Because she thought she should wear her hair in a ponytail. She preferred to leave it for a long time.
Her father laughed and said her hair could be worn as she wished. It has remained downhill ever since.
“I think part of me was like, if I had it, I’d be like all the other girls,” Whitmore said. “It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t me.”
It is not uncommon for girls to play Little League. But it didn’t take long before Whitmore began to identify the gender of structures for baseball (boys) and softball (girls).
“You can hear the suspect,” Scott Whitmore said. “‘Hey, boys will be strong, and she won’t be able to hang with them.’ He said he was 12, and it never happened.
Whitmore first saw the pitch when Justin Seagal was 15 years old. The first woman to coach a major league organization, Seagal founded the nonprofit Baseball For All to promote gender equality in baseball and to provide opportunities for girls who want to play on youth teams. .
From that first introduction, Seagal kept tabs on Whitmore, who probably thought she was the one to break into professional baseball more than any woman in decades.
“She’s something special,” Seagal said of Whitmore. “It’s obvious that she has the physical abilities to compete.”
But in high school, Whitmore wondered if he had the mental stamina to emphasize that.
“I’m starting to get that feeling. Shouldn’t I be here?” Whitmore said. “Am I not here? People keep asking me why I am here, people are wondering, outsiders are trying to push me the other way. It started to mess with my head.
Loneliness also became a factor. Always the only girl, vivid, outsider. He said it was emotionally draining.
“You want to know what it feels like,” Whitmore said.
Unable to obtain a baseball scholarship, she entered the softball recruiting show despite her limited experience with the game. Her athleticism and her baseball instincts proved to be enough to attract a flood of contributions from coaches who thought they could make her a star in time.
She was previously thinking of switching to softball. “That’s not what I wanted to do,” Whitmore said. “The high school softball team wanted me to play for them. Truth be told, it was like telling me to go play soccer. In my head, it’s a completely different sport.
College softball, however, looks more attractive, as Whitmore considers it impossible to concentrate.
“I thought, if I go to play in a team full of girls, I get the feeling that everyone is not always the one who looks or wants to change,” Whitmore said. “When I walked into the softball field, I thought, ‘Okay, cool, I’m finally part of them.’
She was still different.
She moved like a baseball player, wore a hat, and wore baseball pants. She had to re-learn how to hit, how to judge fly balls, and how to swipe bags. The atmosphere at Dugout was also foreign to her – the list of girls interacted differently from the boys.
After the games, she slips into the batting cage to take cuts against the overhand pitchers. In the summer, after the Fullerton season, she pitched for the USA Baseball Women’s National Team. “I told myself, it’s just temporary,” Whitmore said of softball.
He also reached out to former Big-League reliever Joe Beamel, who opened a training facility in Torrance, California, which helps pitchers build momentum. When Whitmore arrived, her speedball increased slightly to 70 miles per hour.
“We had to get her at least 80s,” Bimel said in a phone interview. But he was impressed by the motion on her pitches.
Whitmore’s pitching arsenal includes two-seamer, four-seamer, slider, curve – and something else entirely. “It’s this weird knuckleball-change that she throws,” Beamel said.
Whitmore calls it “The Thing” and is a source of attraction at Pitch Ferryhawks. Former teammate Julio Tehran, who previously pitched for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers, was recently studying his grip before leaving the Mexican League.
Whitmore never blasts professional hitters (she’s throwing in the upper 70s now), but Eddie Medina, the director of the Ferryhawks campaign, who insisted on signing her, thought Whitmore could keep the hitters in balance.
Her pitching coach, former major league player Nelson Figueroa, was successful despite her lack of speed and she helped Whitmore fit in. In his second pitching appearance of the season, he gave up six runs for two-thirds of an innings during a blowout defeat. At a recent show on June 5, he marked the scoreless innings.
Despite mixed results, fans cheer her on and show up to see her. Life in baseball means dressing in a locker room and taking a bath in a facility used by team coaches.
But she calls her teammates her “big brothers” and they embrace each other.
She has her father as a source of comfort and laughter. Scott Whitmore retired at the end of May, packing up the car and drove across the country.
He had no intention of losing the match. “I’m going to spend the whole summer watching my daughter play baseball.”