Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - Page 20 News List

Japan’s ‘Knuckle Princess’ ready to baffle US men

AFP , TOKYO

Diminutive teenager Eri Yoshida says her tricky knuckleball will make up for any lack of size when she becomes the first Japanese woman to play pro baseball against the imposing US male sluggers.

The 18-year-old pitcher sealed a contract with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League, a US independent minor league, last week after attracting attention in a US tryout winter league in Arizona earlier this year.

She will be the first woman to play for a pro team in the US since Ila Borders retired in 2000 from her career in independent leagues.

“I was stunned by their size at first when I played in the Arizona Winter League,” the 1.55m Yoshida said in Tokyo yesterday ahead of the Chico’s spring training from early next month.

“But when I am on the mound I will forget about their physical build or size as I want to pitch with my mind focused only on the catcher’s mitt,” the right-handed sidearm pitcher said.

Yoshida, who became the first woman to play professional baseball with men in Japan last year, has a special weapon, the knuckleball. It is a pitch thrown with little speed or spin and moves erratically and unpredictably towards the home plate.

“I want to polish my knuckleball and I want to make my pitch as stable as [Tim] Wakefield’s,” she said.

Wakefield, 43, is a right-handed knuckleball master who has pitched for the Major League Boston Red Sox since 1995.

He inspired Yoshida to use the magical pitch when she watched him play on television when she was a member of a boys’ team at high school in Kawasaki.

Yoshida has said the knuckleball is the key to a success in pitching against men.

Nicknamed “Knuckle Princess,” she made her professional debut in March last year, playing with the Kobe Cruise in an independent league in western Japan. She went 0-2 in 11 games before leaving the club at the end of the season.

While playing in the winter tryout league, she managed to meet Wakefield at the Boston Red Sox’s spring training camp.

“Wakefield advised me to pitch by focusing on one point and throwing straight forward. I’ve come to control my pitch better than ever,” she said. “I know that it is not easy to get ahead in the world of US independent leagues. I am determined to struggle each and every day. I want to climb onto the mound no matter what.”

Asked if Major League Baseball was her ultimate dream, she said: “Of course, I want to challenge it if I can.”

More than 100 players from the 10-team Golden Baseball League have been acquired by MLB or professional international baseball organizations in the last four years, the league said.

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