Knucklegirl

November 18th, 2008at 05:13pm Posted by Eli

Cool! Although I’d be happier if she were inspired by Phil Niekro…

The knuckleball – the fluttering, hard-to-hit pitch that’s rare in the major leagues – is propelling a 16-year-old girl to the pros in Japan.

Eri Yoshida was inspired to learn how to throw the knuckler after seeing a video of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. On Monday, she broke the gender barrier by being drafted for an independent league team as Japan’s first female professional baseball player.

The high schooler was chosen by the Kobe 9 Cruise in the Japanese League, which starts its inaugural season in April.

The Cruise are a far cry from the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Making the squad is more like earning a tentative slot on a farm team than warming up in the bullpen for the Red Sox.

Even so, the 5-foot, 114-pound Yoshida has smashed the glass ceiling with her unorthodox, sidearm pitch in baseball-crazy Japan, where women normally are relegated to amateur, company-sponsored teams or to the sport of softball.

“I’m really happy I stuck with baseball,” Yoshida said in a news conference after she was chosen with 32 other players in the new league’s draft. “I want to pitch against men.”

(…)

Yoshida started playing baseball when she was in the second grade, tagging along with her elder brother, now 19, and played first base on a boy’s team in junior high school. She also joined her high school baseball club, but quit because the training was too tough. Then she joined a private club.

According to media reports, Yoshida was inspired to throw knuckleballs when her father, Isamu, showed her a video of Wakefield pitching. She thought that she could do it, too.

“She must be doing something right,” said Dave DeFrietas, a scout in Japan for the Cleveland Indians. “She got signed. I hope it’s because of the way she plays, and I wish her success.”

Her manager agrees. “Her sidearm knuckleballs dip and sway, and could be an effective weapon for us,” said Yoshihiro Nakata.

(…)

Baseball history in the United States has occasional examples of women taking the field with men. While pitching for the Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, Virne Beatrice “Jackie” Mitchell Gilbert struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession. In the last couple of decades, at least three women have pitched in independent minor leagues.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a sidearm knuckleballer.  Since the knuckleball hardly spins at all, I suppose it shouldn’t make much difference.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Sports


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