TOKYO, Japan — Teenager Eri Yoshida, who last year became Japan’s first woman to play professional baseball with men, said Friday she would repeat the achievement in the United States.
The tiny 18-year-old pitcher said she had accepted an offer from the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League to become the first woman to pitch for a pro team in the United States since Ila Borders retired in 2000.
“I have fretted over many things for a long time,” Yoshida told her fans in a blog. “But I have concluded that I should not lose this chance to do what I can do only now.
“I really want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for an opportunity to pursue my dream again and have a wonderful experience,” she said, adding she was “really sorry that I cannot repay your kindness in Japan.”
The US club, based in the Californian city of Chico, confirmed on its website that Yoshida would play for them this summer and would report for spring training in early May.
The team said it was making “special accommodations” for Yoshida, the only female to ever play in pro leagues in the two baseball-crazy countries.
These arrangements would include “separate locker room facilities and hotel rooms while traveling on roadtrips,” it said. “But otherwise she will be like any other rookie pitcher starting her pro career.”
Chico Outlaws team president Mike Marshall said his club was “one of the leading teams in moving players to major league organisations and will be a fine showcase for her to show her talent.”
Standing at 155 centimetres (five foot one inch) and weighing 52 kilograms (115 pounds), right-handed Yoshida is famous for her baffling knuckleball, a pitch thrown with little speed or spin.
Nicknamed “Knuckle Princess,” she made her professional debut in March last year, playing with the Kobe Cruise in an independent league in western Japan. She went 0-2 in 11 games before leaving the Kobe club at the end of the season.
She then played in a US tryout winter league in Arizona earlier this year with Chico making the offer in late February.
Yoshida also had a tentative contract to play for the Mie Throw Arrows in the new, independent Japan-Future League this coming season if she did not move to the United States.
In Arizona, she received instruction from US major league knuckleball master Tim Wakefield, at the Boston Red Sox’s spring training camp.
“My wish to become a genuine knuckleballer and my feelings toward America have turned stronger and stronger” after meeting Wakefield, Yoshida said. “I will give all I have toward my dream.”
A women’s professional baseball league existed in Japan from 1950 to 1951 and the country’s women are a softball powerhouse, winning Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008.
“I’m excited to have her on the team and to watch her continue to improve and develop and progress up the pro ranks,” Chico manager Garry Templeton said.