Apr 11, 2022 - Sports

Kelsie Whitmore has made it higher in pro baseball than any woman in over 20 years

Kelsie Whitmore talks to the media.
Kelsie Whitmore in 2016. Photo: Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Kelsie Whitmore's historic baseball journey continues today when the Atlantic League's Staten Island FerryHawks begin spring training.

Why it matters: This is the highest level of pro baseball reached by a woman since 2000, and Whitmore, who signed on Friday, is one of the only women ever to play in a league with connections to MLB.

"I've been working for an opportunity like this my whole life, and I'm ready to get after it and compete."
ā€” Whitmore

Catch up quick: For Whitmore, it's always been about baseball, which she chose over softball at age 6. "She wanted to throw overhand [and] do what baseball players do," her dad told SI. "So I didn't set the direction. She did."

  • That led Whitmore, now 23, to the USA Baseball women's team, where she starred as an elite pitcher (1.35 ERA at the 2015 Pan-Am Games) and hitter (.348 BA in the 2019 Pan-Am Games).
  • She switched to softball in college only because baseball wasn't an option, and last year at Cal State Fullerton she was named the Big West Conference position player of the year.
  • She's played professionally before, too: In 2016 with the Sonoma Stompers and last summer with the Portland Pickles, both independent clubs.

The backdrop: Stories like Whitmore's are rare because girls have so few opportunities to play baseball, which oddly enough stems from a 1975 court ruling that should have had the opposite effect.

  • The court's decision was that Little League must allow girls to play on boys teams, but backlash from parents resulted in Little League introducing softball and encouraging girls to play that instead.
  • That status quo persists to this day, though some are trying to change it. Baseball For All, a non-profit founded in 2010, hosted the inaugural women's college club baseball championship last month.

The big picture: More women's baseball history was made on Friday when Tampa Tarpons (Yankees Single-A) skipper Rachel Balkovec became the first full-time female manager in affiliated baseball history.

"I was blatantly discriminated against [early in my career]. Some people say not to say that ... but I think it's important to say because it lets you know how much change has happened."
ā€” Balkovec
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