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November 2016 People

Welcome to the Big Leagues

Earlier this year, Francis Ford Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery, in association with the Sonoma Stompers, an independent professional baseball team, began searching for the best women baseball players in the country to join the team. This July, 17-year-old outfielder and pitcher Kelsie Whitmore and 25-year-old pitcher and infielder Stacy Piagno began playing with the team.

The Stompers are the first co-ed professional baseball team since the 1950s, when the very first women achieved the distinction to play alongside men in the Negro Leagues.

Although both women made it to the big leagues on merit, playing with guys is still no picnic. “As a woman I have to train twice as hard just to be even with most,” Piagno says. “So my pitching strategies will switch from a power pitcher, when I’m against girls, to more of an off-speed pitcher when I’m against guys.”

Still, being recruited by the Stompers was “an amazing feeling,” she says. “Getting a chance to play at the professional level was a huge accomplishment for me. It was a dream come true and hopefully one that will continue to play out.”

She also says that she couldn’t have imagined a better experience on the team. “The guys were all so supportive and friendly. They really showed respect for both Kelsie and me, while also not being afraid to hold back when it came to goofing around. It was a great mix.”

Whitmore agrees: “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great season where I learned so much. My other teammates were the most perfect group of guys that I’ve ever come across and we’ve become life-long friends. The experience made me fall more in love with the game and learn more about myself as a baseball player.”

Napa’s Own Maestro

At 21, having a career is serendipitous. Finding the job at a young age is increasingly rare, but since he was young, Raja Orr knew he wanted to be a conductor.

The Napa Valley youth conducted his first orchestra at age 18 at the Jarvis Conservatory. He wrote the score (106 minutes in length) for a Swedish black-and-white film called The Phantom Carriage. “I never conducted or premiered a public composition, and it was a big creative leap for me,” he says. “After that, I knew I wanted to be a composer.”

Orr is inspired by legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, whose “Unanswered Question” and “Young People's Concert” lectures entertained Orr endlessly when he watched them on YouTube. “He was a man of huge musicality and intellect,” he says. Orr’s favorite conductors include Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Orr has already conducted at Carnegie Hall in New York with “Colors of Spring,” an original score he debuted with the Napa Valley Youth Symphony during the Red Gala at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville.

In his third year at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music studying under David Conte, Orr is working toward complete mastery in music theory. “After SFCM, I’m considering going to film school to make my own films and write music for them,” he says. “I’d love to be a storyteller and composer like [Richard] Wagner was with his operas. His music and imaginative librettos are a huge inspiration for me.”


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