This content is sponsored by Arena Stage.
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater marks the opening of a new season with the inspiring story of Toni Stone.
The play, which originally premiered in San Francisco, was postponed due to the pandemic, and is now back with live performances and a special simulcast at Nationals Park. Written by the award-winning playwright Lydia R. Diamond, in a timely adaptation of the book “Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone” by Martha Ackmann, Diamond sheds light on the pioneer that history had long forgotten.
Like most, you’re probably wondering, who is Toni Stone?
“Anyone who knows Babe Ruth should know who this woman is,” said Diamond. “Toni Stone is the first Black woman ever to play professional baseball.”
Born Marcenia Lyle Stone in West Virginia in 1921, Toni grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she cultivated a strong arm and a love for baseball. As a talented athlete in the ’40s, Toni played for many semi-pro leagues. With dreams of going pro and zero chances of integrating with the “white-only” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, she reinvented herself to stay in the game. She changed her name to Toni, shaved ten years off her age, and even dressed in men’s clothing.
“She was one interesting contradiction after another,” said Diamond. “There was no paradigm around her asserting herself as someone who was transgender or gay. Toni rolled how she rolled.”
In 1950, Jackie Robinson broke color barriers in the Majors, creating an opportunity for women to play in the Negro Leagues. Recruited as a gimmick to draw fans, Toni was the first of three women to join. Her journey as the first woman to cross the gender line in American baseball was no easy feat. Toni endured substantial harassment from opponents, critics, and even her fellow teammates. While most people would have succumbed to the challenges she faced, Toni persevered.
Her endurance paid off in a major way when she signed her first pro contract in 1953. The Indianapolis Clowns recruited Toni to replace Hank Aaron as second baseman – making her the first woman to play professionally on a men’s team and the first woman to ever play professionally in the big leagues.
Toni played more than 50 games during the season and landed a hit off the greatest pitcher in Negro League history, Satchel Paige. In 1954, the Clowns traded Toni to the Kansas City Monarchs, where she played one season before retiring.
For decades, Toni’s accomplishments fell short of public praise. It wasn’t until 1993 that she was inducted into both the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. She died at the age of 75 in 1996, but the work to keep her legacy alive continues.
“I am so excited to introduce Toni’s story to a new generation of people who never heard of her,” said lead actress Santoya Fields. “Through Toni’s story, we can see how far we still have to go.”
As a Black woman stepping up to the plate, Fields said she was forced to confront how deeply challenging it is to be black and a woman in America.
“Many times throughout this process, I thought about Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Sha’Carri Richardson and their experiences in this journey,” said Fields. “This play is allowing us to redefine and reshape our idea of female athletes and what it means to be strong.”
Audiences will also have the opportunity to watch Toni Stone take the center field in a special video simulcast on September 26 at Nationals Park.