Eri Yoshida was apparently inspired to learn how to throw a knuckleball after seeing Tim Wakefield, the grizzled veteran of the Boston Red Sox, throw the pitch in a video. On Monday, the young hurler took an even bigger step forward when she was drafted by a Japanese independent league team, becoming the first woman ever to become a professional baseball player in Japan. Wakefield, when told his young, would-be protégé, noted, “I hope I can see her pitch one day. I’m honored that someone wants to become me. I wish her the best of luck. Maybe I can learn something from her.”
Yoshida was chosen in the draft by Kobe 9 Cruise, a team that will begin its inaugural season in a Japan independent league next April. Still in high school, weighing in a 114 pounds an standing in at 5 feet even, the young pitcher notes that she is “really happy I stuck with baseball. I want to pitch against men.” For his part, Wakefield put the young pitcher’s progress in perspective with regards to his own rise in the major leagues, noting “It’s funny that I’ve reached that point in my career that people want to emulate me. I’m glad I had people like the Niekros, Charlie Hough and Tom Candiotti that I could look up to. I am deeply humbled that it is me this time.” All of the pitchers Wakefield mentioned were knuckleballers, a pitch that is hard to control, comes in much slower than even the average changeup, but is nearly impossible to hit when the pitcher finds his (or her) groove.
Yoshida, who hopes to further develop the pitch, started playing baseball when she was in second grade, inspired by her older brother. She played first base on a boy’s baseball team in junior high. » Read more: Sixteen Year Old Japanese Girl Makes the Baseball Big Leagues