>> Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Dubbed "Knuckle Hime" (Knuckle Princess) by the Japanese press, eighteen year old Eri Yoshida became the first female player drafted by a Japanese professional baseball team when the Kobe 9 Cruise of the Kansai Independent Baseball League drafted her two years ago. Now she's brought her knuckleball act to the States, trying to catch the eye of scouts in Arizona winter ball.
The 5'1" pitcher started throwing knuckleballs after watching video of Major League knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and has a fastball that tops out at 63 miles per hour. Knuckleballs are finicky things though; some days they dance, and some days they don't, and when they don't you need that fastball to get people out. Sixty-three miles per hour isn't going to blow past too many professional baseball players, but Eri is just 18.
Her success will depend a lot on having a pitch she can throw for a strike beyond her knuckler. In her first start for the Yuma Scorpions, she gave up five runs in two innings, allowing three hits, walking one, and hitting four batters. Her second stint was better though--she retired all three batters she faced, with one strikeout.
Japanese pro baseball used to have a rule that did not allow women from playing, but that restriction was dropped more than a decade ago, and women have been trying out and playing ever since--but none has yet broken into the all-male ranks of the highest level of Japanese baseball, the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Eri Yoshida has a long way to go before she can expect to compete there, but as Wayne Graczyk of The Japan Times says in his recent column about her, she has certainly showed a gutsy attitude and lots of heart--which will get you everywhere in Japan.