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 watching 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 pro baseball player.
The high schooler was chosen by the Kobe 9 Cruise in the Japanese League, which will start 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.
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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 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 is hoping to find enough success to one day challenge the likes of the long-established Central and Pacific leagues, home to the best Japanese players and increasingly a fertile ground for talent headed to the majors in the United States.
Yoshida said she wants to emulate Wakefield, who has built a successful major league career throwing a knuckleball, which is difficult to learn and even harder to throw with success.