Every time a story breaks about a female athlete joining a male professional sports team, I run the other way because the media circus — "Mint juleps! Get your mint juleps! And your commemorative League of Their Own apron and tea towel set!" — is inevitably followed by the trifling dude-debate, Girls: Are They Athletes If They Can’t Bench Press As Much As Boys? And I’ve written about that so many times, I wake up once a week in a cold-sweat shouting, "Pat Summitt does not need to prove herself by coaching in the [expletive] NBA!"
Last week, Japanese knuckle-ball phenom Eri Yoshida signed with the Golden Baseball League’s Chico Outlaws, making her the first woman to have a shot at playing professional baseball since Ila Borders joined the Independent Northern League in 1997. And even as I was sprinting away from the Yoshida hoopla, I was looking back over my shoulder, humming "We’re the members of the All-American team, we come from cities near and far…"
And now here I am writing about it because someone’s got to offer an alternative to the Associated Press coverage, which is just full of this nonsense:
Also, in case you were worried about it, Yoshida was "looking fresh despite making a trans-oceanic flight just a few hours beforehand." That’s always the first thing I want to know when I log onto ESPN.com: Did Derek Jeter look worn-out when he got off the plane in Los Angeles? His belt, did it match his shoes?
So, here’s the real (non-fashion) deal with Yoshida: She’s been a household name in Japan since 2008, when she became the first woman to be drafted by a pro baseball team (she was still in high school!). She toured with the Arizona Winter League earlier this year, pitching ten games and going 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA. Her fastball only clocks about 80MPH, but her signature knuckleball — taught to her by Tim Wakefield — is what she’s placing her hope on.
The knuckleball isn’t about speed; it’s about unpredictability. Throwing the pitch requires more than just sheer athleticism. And that means Eri Yoshida might have some real staying power in the American minor leagues. And if she’s more than a blip on the radar — with her winning smile and shiny red shoes — that means the second part of her pro baseball dream might come true, too: "I’m really hoping that the way I’m striving for my dreams means a lot of women will start playing baseball, not just in the U.S., but in Japan too. I’m excited to see to see how many join me."
Unlike golf or basketball, there is no professional women’s league for baseball. So even though I loathe the argument that a woman has to play in a men’s league to prove her athletic worth, there really isn’t an alternative for Yoshida. She’s got all kinds of optimism and tenacity, and she’s going to need it: Minor league baseball is a carnage-strewn battleground of hope.
Yoshida will pitch her first game for Chico in late May. Until then, I’ll leave you with another gem from the AP: "Yoshida will have a separate area to dress inside the Outlaws’ clubhouse."
Hopefully it will have extra mirrors so she can make sure her face looks fresh before every practice.