By Regina Varolli
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Eri Yoshida, the first woman to play professional baseball in Japan, is mulling over a chance to play professional league baseball in the United States for the Chico Outlaws, based in Chico, Calif.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Eri Yoshida, a pitcher known for her sidearm knuckleball, has an offer to play professional baseball in the United States for the independent Golden Baseball League's Chico Outlaws.
Kevin Outcalt, commissioner for the Golden Baseball League, told Women's eNews if all goes well they expect Yoshida will sign with the Chico Outlaws and that they're planning a public signing ceremony some time in April. The Golden Baseball League's season opens May 19 and runs through Sept. 6, followed by the division playoffs.
If Yoshida, age 18, does join the team, she'll be the first woman to play in the Golden Baseball League, following Ila Borders of La Mirada, Calif., who pitched for the St. Paul Saints in the Northern League in 1997. She'll also be the first Japanese woman to play professional baseball in the United States and the third to play in any of the seven male-dominated independent leagues in North America.
The gender barrier remains unbroken in Major League Baseball.
Today's professional independent leagues were founded as unaffiliated alternatives to Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. The Golden Baseball League was founded in 1994 by Silicon Valley magnates, among them Kevin Outcalt.
There are no rules barring women from playing professional baseball with--or against--men in the independent leagues. A ban on women in the Major and Minor Leagues has been in effect since June 1952, initiated by then-Commissioner Ford Frick. The ban was briefly overlooked in 1993 when Carey Schueler was drafted to play for the Chicago White Sox by her father, then-General Manager Ron Schueler. She never signed with the team.
So far, Yoshida's been mum about the Outlaws' offer and Outcalt said her agents in Japan are making it hard for the press to reach her.
After wrapping up the Arizona Winter League season pitching for the Yuma Scorpions, Yoshida was spotted in early March when she traveled to Fort Myers, Fla., to meet--and throw knuckleballs with--Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, there for spring training. Yoshida has described Wakefield as her idol in many press interviews and has said she taught herself how to pitch a knuckleball by watching video footage of Wakefield in action.
Since appearing with Wakefield, Yoshida has gone back to Japan to visit friends and family and to mull over the Chico Outlaws' offer, according to various press reports.
When the 5-foot, 1-inch teenager was drafted by the Yuma Scorpions last winter, many sports writers and commentators wondered if this wasn't just a move by Yuma to grab media attention and increase ticket sales for the Arizona Winter League, a professional independent instructional league where only one other woman has ever played. Tiffany Brooks of Spokane, Wash., played for Yuma and has signed a contract with the Big Bend Cowboys of Alpine, Texas, a franchise of Continental Baseball, one of the seven independent leagues.
"The media always says it's all about publicity whenever a woman is successful in baseball," Jennifer Ring, author of "Stolen Bases, Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball," said in a recent interview. "Besides just being a woman, Yoshida is very small and she doesn't pitch a fastball. So people question her prospects based on her strength and size. But baseball has always had a place for smaller men who can throw opponents off their game."
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By Regina Varolli