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eri yoshida
Kyodo News/AP
Eri Yoshida

Eri Yoshida, First Woman to Join a Men's Professional Baseball League in Japan

December 17, 2009
by Josh Katz
A Japanese team drafted 16-year-old Eri Yoshida in November, making her the first  woman to play baseball with the men in Japan.

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The Kobe 9 Cruise team of the Kansai Independent Baseball League, a professional league beginning play in 2009, drafted Eri Yoshida in November. At just 16 years old, the 5-foot, 114-pound pitcher impressed league officials during open tryouts earlier in the month, using her sidearm knuckleball to retire eight batters without allowing a hit.

“I want to shine in baseball and aimed to become a professional player,” said Yoshida in a press conference. “My mind has gone blank but I’m happy.”

The knuckleball, which is thrown with little or no spin, is designed to move erratically and confuse the batter. It has been used successfully by baseball Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro, and Yoshida’s idol, Boston Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield.

Hope I can see her pitch one day,” Wakefield told the Red Sox in a text message that was relayed to the Associated Press. “I’m honored that someone wants to become me. I wish her the best of luck. Maybe I can learn something from her.”

Yoshida took up the sport in second grade and played first base for a boy’s junior high school team. “She also joined her high school baseball club, but quit because the training was too tough,” according to AP. She then joined a private club instead.

Yoshida signed with the Cruise on December 2, officially making her Japan’s first female professional baseball player in an all-male league. “I still don't feel like I've really become a pro baseball player, but I want to do my best,” said Yoshida.

In January of 2010, Yoshida will make a move to the United States, playing in a winter instructional league, perhaps with hopes of catching the eye of a professional team.

Several American women have played professionally against men. Three black women—Toni Stone, Connie Morgan and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson—played in the Negro Leagues in the 1950s, while in 1997, Ila Borders became the first woman to play in an integrated professional league.
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