Kelsie Whitmore only ever wanted to play baseball, so why pass up just about any opportunity to continue doing so at this point?
That was the thinking behind the 17-year-old's decision to be one of two women to try their hand at the professional version of the national pastime.
Both Whitmore and Team USA baseball teammate Stacy Piagno, 25, signed with the independent Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific Association earlier this week.
"It means a lot," Piagno said. Having grown up playing baseball, "getting a chance to play as a woman means a lot to me," she added.
For her part, Whitmore said, "It seems to be a big debate whether to have girls in the majors. My goal is to play the game I love as long as I can."
The pair made their debuts Friday night, with Whitmore in left field and Piagno on the mound.
"We hope this sends a message to the rest of the baseball world that there is room for women and girls in this game, from Little League to the Major Leagues," Stompers general manager Theo Fightmaster said.
He continued: "We are getting a lot of publicity out of this, but what was important to us as an organization is that we did this the right way. I think the fact that they are going to be here in uniform, on the roster ... is what makes this more of a genuine effort than a pure one-day circus."
Pitcher Matt Picucci agreed, called it an "exciting" experience "to be part of history."
Neither Whitmore nor Piagno are strangers to baseball, with each having played with Team USA previously — including at last summer's Pan American Games, where they won silver medals.
"At a young age, people would come and watch her. Parents would say, 'I'm going to see that girl on TV some day," said Kelsie Whitmore's father, Scott Whitmore, who is amazed and proud of her accomplishments.
With time, Scott Whitmore said he has moved past his fears.
"I’m not nervous for her anymore," he admitted. "I used to be when she was younger because she was a girl in an only boy’s world."
It was that connection to the game she's "always loved" that helped land Whitmore a spot with the independent team just a few short months after graduating from Temecula Valley High School.
Whitmore, who played baseball exclusively throughout her high school career, had taken part with an organization called Baseball For All when she was young. And it was a member of that group, which aims to provide opportunities for girls to participate in baseball, who first contacted Whitmore to see if she was interested in joining the professional ranks.
After a few scouting trips to watch Whitmore, the Stompers — who last season fielded the sport's first active openly gay player, Sean Conroy — agreed the fit and timing were right.
"Any opportunity like this, of course I wanted to do it," Whitmore said.
The incumbent Stompers have welcomes their new teammates — as you do in baseball.
Whitmore’s "got to carry the hitters bag around with the pine tar and the weights and stuff so she's got her own job, which makes her more part of the team," said third baseman Caleb Bryson.
Whitmore first played for Team USA as a 16-year-old after having been a part of the team's development program for three years. That while she was still in high school, and after having politely declined chances to play varsity softball instead because of her love for baseball.
"My relationship with baseball is different than anything else," Whitmore said. "It's like my best friend. I hate it some days, but the next day I just love it and am enjoying it. It's competition all the time, and there's so much to learn."
Whitmore will make the switch to softball later this year, having accepted a scholarship to play at Cal State Fullerton. She was approached by the school after having never played the sport, with her only experience coming during a weekend camp following her junior year of high school.
She'll keep playing baseball as well, beginning Friday night — though she'll do so without pay to ensure her NCAA eligibility isn't jeopardized.
"So far, I've tried to earn respect with everyone individually, but they've been great," Whitmore said. "I'm lucky to have a good group of guys to play ball with."
To that, her father Scott Whitmore added: "I never thought I'd hear someone say, ‘Your daughter is playing professional baseball.’ So it’s a cool day."
Piagno and Whitmore are also role models for young girls like Lola Martin, who play baseball.
"I think they played really good and showed how good they were to all the guys who didn’t think they should play here," the fan said.
Whitmore and Piagno clearly showed Friday that they belong, and they want other young girls to know they can belong too.
"Keep playing baseball [or] whatever you like to do, whether it be dancing or singing," Piagno said. "Keep doing what you love. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t."