Japanese "knuckle princess" wows U.S. baseball crowd

Fri Aug 6, 2010 12:48am EDT
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By Braden Reddall

CHICO, California (Reuters Life!) - She's petite and just 18 but Japanese baseballer Eri Yoshida throws a mean ball, winning her an army of fans at the Chico Outlaws baseball games in northern California and fueling girls' interest in the game.

Standing 5 ft 1 in tall and weighing 114 pounds, Yoshida is the first Japanese woman to play professional baseball in a U.S. men's league and the first woman to pitch in a professional U.S. league since Ila Borders retired 10 years ago.

Yoshida made headlines and impressed the baseball world last year when she became Japan's first female pro player, pitching for the Kobe Cruise 9 in the Kansai Independent League. She also pitched for the Yuma Scorpions in the Arizona Winter League.

Yoshida, nicknamed the "knuckle princess" for using a skilful, unpredictable baseball pitch known as a knuckleball, has won unprecedented media attention for the Outlaws and the independent minor Golden Baseball League founded in 2004.

Her arrival has also helped boost sales of merchandise at the Chico Outlaws, particularly among young fans.

A woman selling T-shirts at the stadium said Yoshida's arrival had set off a wave of purchases of her No. 3 shirt by "mostly little girls" thrilled to see a female on the field alongside the men.

Her appearances on the mound have also swollen the ranks of the few hundred faithful at Nettleton, a 4,200-capacity stadium attached to the Chico State University.

"Everyone I talk to is really excited and interested to hear that she really has become this draw for people in the community," said Emily Westphal, an executive director of the charity Girls Inc, which has sponsored the Outlaws because of Yoshida.   Continued...

<p>Yuma Scorpions female starting pitcher Eri Yoshida, 18, of Japan, smiles before the start of the Arizona Winter League game against Team Canada in Yuma, Arizona January 29, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott</p>