Staten Island Ferryhawks' Kelsie Whitmore plays long toss before the...

Staten Island Ferryhawks' Kelsie Whitmore plays long toss before the start of the baseball game against the Long Island Ducks, Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at Fairfield Properties Ballpark. Credit: George A Faella


 

Kelsie Whitmore sat on her perch in the visiting dugout at the Long Island Ducks’ Fairfield Properties Ballpark, carefully considering the question posed to her. As the first woman to start in an Atlantic League game, she is, by any estimation, a groundbreaker. But does she view herself that way?

Almost reluctantly, she agrees that sure, “in a way,” she’s creating a new path for women in the sport. But Whitmore doesn’t view her achievements in a vacuum. If women are going to progress in professional baseball, they’re probably going to need more than the typical mixture of talent, resilience and luck. They’ll need, too, the other thing male players have – an environment where all those attributes are allowed to come together, even flourish.

“Not just me, but even some of the guys here I feel are groundbreakers as well,” she said, well-versed in that team mentality that’s drilled into baseball players from Little League. “They’re out here playing with me, they’re out here supporting me, they’re out here treating me like a teammate. That’s pretty groundbreaking.”

And while that’s true, it also illustrates a larger point. As a woman playing professional baseball, Whitmore appreciates what others may take for granted – things like her teammates accepting her, or the lack of vitriol she receives when she takes the field. The outfielder and pitcher for the Staten Island FerryHawks has gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback, even from opposing teams’ fans. She knows better than to go on social media, though – that, Whitmore said, is still a minefield.

“They come up to me and want to shake my hand and get to know me,” she said before her FerryHawks were set to take on the Ducks. “I always enjoy that kind of stuff because being a female coming into the game, you don’t get much support, so when there are people that are supporting me, especially fans from opposing teams, I think that’s even better – especially, not just younger females, but younger boys in the stands.”

Opposing managers seem impressed, too. Ducks manager Wally Backman said before the game that Whitmore piqued his curiosity. A woman in professional baseball was going to happen eventually, he said, but it doesn’t mean the path was ever going to be a simple one.

Staten Island FerryHawks outfielder and pitcher Kelsie Whitmore made history earlier this season by becoming the first woman to start an Atlantic League game, Newsday TV reporter Jamie Stuart has the story. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

“It’s gotta be tough,” Backman said. “It’s quite the experience for, probably not only her, but for the league and the team in Staten Island to see what comes out of this but the fact that she’s trying to do this? I’m a little bit impressed by her.”

Whitmore hasn’t gotten into too many games – she’s 0-for-3 with a walk and a run at the plate, and has pitched twice, one good, one-batter outing, and another in which she struggled. But the season is still young, and she’s intent on growing every day, she said. Since her fastball tops out in the high-70s, she leans on craftiness and deception, along with control and strong mechanics, to get hitters out. She didn’t play in Tuesday night's game, which the Ducks won, 1-0.

At 5-6, she knows she's smaller than the typical player, but her work ethic is outsized.

“I definitely feel the target on my back where I feel the need to be perfect every time,” she said. “There’s been times, opportunities I’ve had, where I put a lot of pressure on myself, where I’m not as zoned in as I’m supposed to be – putting pressure on myself to perfect things too much. But the best part of this game is if you fail one day, you’re going to be out there the next day.”

And the best part of that is that she’s getting to live a dream. The talent level in the Atlantic League is somewhere akin to Double-A and her goal is to one day play affiliated baseball in a minor-league system.

“Ask any guy here what their goal is and mine is the same,” she said. “I get to say that, for a living, I play professional baseball. That’s the best part of it.”

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