There’s certainly a novelty factor here: Eri Yoshida, a 17-year-old female sidearm pitcher whose knuckleball tops out at 50 m.p.h., will pitch for the Yuma team in the Arizona Winter League.
Yoshida, 17, made headlines and impressed the baseball world last summer when she became the first female to play professionally in Japan. Equipped with a sidearm knuckleball that is considered almost unhittable when she is on, she debuted for the Kobe Cruise 9 of the Kansai League in Japan on opening day as she walked one and struck out one in front of 12,000 fans. She began playing baseball in the 2nd grade and credits Tim Wakefield as the inspiration for her 50 mph knuckleball delivered from her 5 foot 1 inch, 114 lb frame.
The young hurler will be well-tested in the Arizona Winter League as the rosters are typically made up of experienced minor leaguers, college players overlooked in the draft last summer, and a few major league experienced players. Two AWL pitchers from 2007 have already made the big leagues — San Francisco Giant reliever Sergio Romo, and Toronto Blue Jays starter Scott Richmond. The league focuses on showcasing players to give them an opportunity to sign a pro contract — over 120 have done so in the last three season. Many major league clubs attend the AWL to scout talent and the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Franicisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, and Kansas City Royals have all signed AWL players along with every major independent league in the U.S., the Mexican minor leagues, the Italian League, and the Dutch League. All the instructors and managers in the league are experienced major league players, managers, or minor league coaches and include former MLB All-Stars and players such as Mike Marshall, Garry Templeton, Ozzie Virgil, Jr, Cory Snyder, Les Lancaster, Boots Day, Brent Bowers, and Tim Johnson (who was also an MLB manager with Toronto).
“We are really looking forward to having Eri in the league and as a member of the Yuma Scorpions in the upcoming AWL,” said Yuma Scorpions manager Mike Marshall. “It’s an intense month of baseball, a great showcase, and an exceptional opportunity for any player to improve their game and move to the next level. Having played in Japan with Nippon Ham Fighters in the 1990s, I’m thrilled to be able to return the wonderful hospitality that I received and help Eri further her dream.”
The AWL runs for 35 days from Jan. 24th until the Championship game on Feb. 27th. The eight teams play a 20 game schedule and then playoffs. The league is one of the highlights of the winter season in Yuma which is heavily visited by winter tourists who swell the town to over a quarter of a million people in the winter months. Games are played at the Ray Kroc Complex which is the former spring training home of the San Diego Padres and of the Yakult Swallows of Japan’s major league.
“We will have over 170 players from seven countries, including over a dozen from Japan,” said AWL Commisisoner Kevin Outcalt. “The league is focused on helping players with professional potential improve and reach their goals, and we are glad to have a player of Eri’s abilities regardless of gender. She will be well taken care of with separate locker facilities, roomed with Tiffany Brooks, a women’s U.S. baseball legend who will also be playing in the league for the first time, asissted by Japanese translators who are on staff every season of the AWL, and allowed to focus on developing and showcasing her skills.”
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