Thursday, April 8, 2010

Woman knuckleball pitcher to face Seals at RAP

Eri Yoshida has just agreed to terms with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. Considering the Outlaws are scheduled to play seven games in Victoria this year, it's very likely that we’ll see her take to the mound at Royal Athletic Park.

Yoshida will become the first woman to ever play in the Golden Baseball League. Eri performed decently in the Arizona Winter League (a developmental league associated with the GBL), compiling a 1-1 record and a 4.79 ERA in 10 appearances. However, opponents frequently made solid contact against her knuckleball and she gave up a whopping 27 hits in 19 innings of work, while striking out only four batters.

While Yoshida will be the first woman to appear in the GBL, she will likely not be the first woman to play professionally in North America in the 21st century. That’s because Tiffany Brooks was signed by the Big Bend Cowboys (Cowpersons?) of the independent Continental Baseball League in early March and the CBL season starts two weeks before the GBL campaign kicks off. Brooks plays first base and pitches, although she is unlikely to set the CBL on fire in spite of the fact that the league is quite a bit weaker than the Golden League. In the Arizona Winter League this year, see amassed a portly 18.38 ERA and hit only .185. Brooks and Yoshida will be the first female professional baseball players since Ila Borders retired more than 10 years ago. Of course, many women also played professionally in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 until 1954.

For those of you not familiar with Yoshida, she is an 18-year-old knuckleball specialist who stands 5’1” tall and weighs 114 pounds. She played professionally in Japan in 2009 for the Kobe 9 Cruise of the independent Kansai League and had a respectable 4.63 ERA. Her mentor and hero is Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox. Following the conclusion of the Arizona Winter League season, she worked out with Wakefield and was given a number of pointers for improving her knuckleball. "I'm impressed," Wakefield said after their workout. "She spun a couple, but for the most part it was very good. She was able to take the spin out of a lot of them and they had quite a lot of movement on them." Her sidearm-knuckleball dances up to the plate in the low 50’s (MPH).

From a marketing perspective, you would think that the Seals organization (and the league in general) would prefer that she be used as a starter and not in relief. With the assurance that she would appear on a given night, the team could promote her RAP starts and bring in a few hundred extra fans or possibly even more. You would have to think that a Yoshida start would be of significant interest to the numerous Japanese students, Japanese-Canadians and female sports fans in Victoria.  We’ll find out soon enough – the Outlaws are scheduled to play the Seals in Victoria July 26-28 and August 14-17.