Heavy hitter

The true story of the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues gets theatrical treatment at Aurora Fox Arts Center


Despite being the first woman to play professional baseball as a regular on a men’s league team in the United States, Toni Stone’s place in history was largely ignored for decades. That’s what drew director Kenny Moten to her story. 

“Even though she has been getting more recognition recently, most people I talk to don’t know her,” says Moten, a 2022 True West Award winner whose production about Stone’s life is set for its Colorado premiere at the Aurora Fox Arts Center on March 10. “Toni’s journey is one of the great American stories that you wonder why you’ve never heard; so, I’m eager for people to learn more about who she is.”  

Lydia R. Diamond’s play explores Stone’s passion for baseball, beginning with her love of the game as a young girl. Though she was relentlessly mocked by her teammates and doubted by others, Stone persisted. And against all odds, she broke into the male-dominated world of sports playing on the Negro League All-Star team, the New Orleans Creoles and the Indianapolis Clowns. 

“One of the big things that drew me to the show was the passion Toni has for baseball,” Moten says. “There is so much trauma in the story of Black people in America. While that struggle is evident in Toni’s story, she also took great pride in the fact that she was able to play baseball professionally. So rather than focus on the sadness and trauma, I wanted to spotlight Toni’s joy, love and passion.” 

‘If she could marry baseball, she would.’

Moten first encountered Stone’s story while reading Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone by Martha Ackmann. A few months later, Helen Murray, the former executive producer at Aurora Fox, asked Moten, who was working on Freaky Friday the Musical for the theater in 2022, if he would read Toni Stone to see if he was interested in working on the play with the company. 

Toni Stone in uniform with the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns. Photo courtesy Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc.

Although Moten was a little nervous to direct a play after spending so much time working on musicals, he agreed to the project because he was so attracted to Diamond’s themes of Black excellence and perseverance, as well as his desire to work with the theater again.

“The Fox always feels like home,” Moten says. “The thing I love about this theater is their willingness to produce stories that other companies aren’t. I’m not sure another theater in Colorado would produce Toni Stone, which has worked out for me because it’s led to such a nice collaboration with their team.” 

Moten suggests that one hurdle for producing the script is the difficulty of the play’s title role. The lead actor is onstage for almost the entire performance, Moten says, and delivers 80% of the show’s dialogue. Enter Colorado educator, producer and performer, Kenya Mahogany Fashaw, who showed up at auditions and impressed Moten with her ability to relate to the material and bring it to life. 

“I went into the audition against about three other women, and from the beginning, I had the feeling it was mine because I felt very connected to her story,” Fashaw says. “Her mind was very intriguing to me — the way she questioned things and how she couldn’t understand relationships. I discovered through my research process for the character that Toni was autistic and not into dating because baseball was her love. If she could marry baseball, she would.” 

From under-the-rug to out-of-the-park

Moten was confident that Fashaw would be able to channel Stone’s devotion into her performance due in no small part to her intense real-life work ethic. That intuition was confirmed when Fashaw arrived at the first rehearsal with Act One completely memorized and already making strong acting choices. 

But Fashaw isn’t the only one enjoying the limelight in Toni Stone. She is joined by an eight-person ensemble of multi-generational Black actors who play Stone’s teammates, along with spectators and other characters she meets along the way. 

“This is a great blend of Black actors across generations,” Moten says. “We have so many great up-and-comers, like eden and Mykail Cooley, who are joined by legends like Dwayne Carrington and Don Randle. I think audiences will enjoy seeing people who have been around the Black community for years get an opportunity to shine.”  

Ultimately, Fashaw wants her portrayal of Stone’s perseverance in the face of adversity to illuminate a once-hidden chapter of history for local theatergoers. And when the curtains close, she hopes the audience leaves inspired to break boundaries in their own lives. 

“Toni Stone has been swept under the rug by history and hasn’t had her story told in its fullness,” Fashaw says. “I believe this play will encourage audiences to follow their dreams. Toni persevered through instances of racism and sexism to do what she loves, and I admire that she was able to be great in a world that didn’t want her to be.” 

ON STAGE: Toni Stone by Lydia R. Diamond. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m., March 10-April 2. Aurora Fox Arts Center, 900 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. Tickets here.


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