GASTONIA, N.C. — Sandy Kimbrell’s pursuit of the best seat in CaroMont Health Park ended almost directly behind home plate on Sunday. Phone in hand, the Fort Mill, South Carolina, woman settled herself in an effort to capture a moment decades in the making.
"I had to make sure I was here to see history," Kimbrell said.
Kimbrell was there to see Kelsie Whitmore, a member of the Staten Island FerryHawks. Whitmore started Sunday in left field and batted ninth in the order, becoming the first female to start an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) game. Nine days before, she became the first woman to participate in an ALPB game, inserted as a pinch-runner for the FerryHawks in a 5-3 loss to the Charleston.
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The Atlantic League teams are not big league affiliates, but the circuit is an MLB partner league.
Whitmore was 0-for-2 in Sunday’s 10-5 loss to the Gastonia Honey Hunters.
Only given a few hours' notice she would get the start, Whitmore confessed there wasn’t much time to get her nerves in check. Thankfully for the FerryHawks’ outfielder, she had plenty of time to ponder the gravity of the moment.
"I wasn’t really nervous because I’ve been mentally just visualizing and getting comfortable (with baseball at Staten Island). So at the end of the day it is still baseball, and it really felt like another day at the ballpark," Whitmore said.
Kelsie Whitmore. Remember the name! pic.twitter.com/cv5h9f4Bm1
— Atlantic League (@AtlanticLg) May 1, 2022
It didn’t take long for her to get in on the action; Gastonia leadoff man Johnny Davis’ pop fly in the bottom of the first was brought in by Whitmore.
"To be honest, I had a feeling it was coming my way. We had a lefty coming up, but I dunno … I just had a feeling," she said. "It was really nice to get that first out."
She fielded two other balls in the game and watched two more sail over her head, and the fence in left, for Honey Hunter home runs. Whitmore came up to bat in the third, fifth and seventh innings, the Staten Island outfielder’s day consisting of her striking out, being hit by a pitch and flying out to right, respectively.
"Unfortunately, the second at-bat I only got two pitches and one of them was at me," she said. "On the next at-bat, my goal was to be short and quick, try to go the right side and I just got under it. But it’s all about putting together good at-bats, making adjustments at-bat by at-bat and day by day. That’s baseball."
Whitmore was the Big West Conference softball player of the year in 2014 at Cal State-Fullerton, baseball has long been her passion. In fact, she represented USA Baseball as a member of its women’s team in the 2014 World Cup in Japan and Toronto’s Pan American Games the following year.
Sunday wasn’t the first time Whitmore made history, either. In 2016, she and Kimbrell’s daughter, Anna, combined to form the first professional all-female battery — the tandem of a pitcher and catcher — in nearly 70 years as part of the Sonoma (California) Stompers, a member of the Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs.
"I’ve been playing baseball since I was age 6, it’s always been my first love," she said.
During her time in the outfield Sunday, Whitmore thought about what the moment could mean for other girls with dreams of playing in male-dominated sports.
"If you really want something bad enough, you’ll do anything you can to make it happen," she said. "You have to put in the work. It’s going to be hard, it will not be easy. There are going to be moments where you’re going to ask yourself exactly how bad you want it.
"I was in the outfield today, kind of standing there and thinking, ‘Damn, I’m really here right now, right where I want to be.’ Obviously, I’m not where I want to wind up, I want to go to higher levels and go as far as I can. But I’m currently on the path and I’m living a dream, I just want it to continue."
Follow Joe Hughes on Twitter @JoeLHughesII.
This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Kelsie Whitmore becomes first woman to start Atlantic League game