Where EAST meets the Northwest
MAJOR ASPIRATIONS. Eri Yoshida of Agekke, a Japanese women’s baseball team,
smiles during an interview in Oyama, Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo. The
31-year-old Japanese woman is a knuckleball pitcher with a sidearm delivery that
she hopes might carry her to the big leagues. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
From The Asian Reporter, V33, #6 (June 5, 2023), page 13.
Japanese knuckleball pitcher Eri Yoshida plays on her own
Field of Dreams
By Stephen Wade
The Associated Press
OYAMA, Japan — Eri Yoshida sat in the dugout of an all-dirt baseball field in
rural Japan, surrounded by rice paddies, narrow roads, and traditional Japanese
The scene recalled instantly the 1989 film Field of Dreams — Asian
style — and Yoshida certainly has her own.
The 31-year-old Japanese woman is a knuckleball pitcher with a sidearm
delivery that she hopes might carry her to the big leagues in the United States
"I know it’s a really difficult challenge, but I have a dream in my heart
that I really want to stand on a mound in the majors with a knuckleball,"
Yoshida told The Associated Press, speaking in Japanese and showing off her
"So I’ve decided to challenge myself."
Even Yoshida acknowledges that it’s a far-fetched fantasy. But it’s also very
real and reminds of another film, the 1992 classic A League of Their Own
that celebrates a women’s baseball league in the United States during World War
She just travelled to play for two months in the Empire League, an
independent baseball league in upstate New York. She’s accustomed to chasing
Yoshida has pitched in Japan, the United States, and Canada — against men and
women — and for the last several years has been a player-coach with a women’s
team called Agekke — the sponsor’s name — in Tochigi prefecture in north central
"I feel that my personality is really like a knuckleball," Yoshida said. The
famously mercurial pitch has been her lifeline to keep playing baseball, a great
equalizer for a small woman — she’s only 5’1" — but a very difficult one to
As a high school student, Yoshida was the first female professional baseball
player in Japan, and dubbed the "Knuckle Princess" in newspaper headlines. She’s
never played softball, though some female baseball players have started that
She added to her renown after this, again playing with the men as an
18-year-old on an independent team in Chico, California, managed by former major
league shortstop Garry Templeton.
"He was like my father," Yoshida said.
In her early teen years she realized that the boys were growing taller and
stronger. How to compete? Then she saw former Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim
Wakefield throw a knuckleball that helped him to 200 career wins.
"I was not tall enough or powerful enough to throw a 160-kph (100 mph)
straight ball, but it seemed like maybe I could throw a 105-kph (65 mph)
knuckleball," she explained. "And after watching Wakefield pitching for the
first time, I wanted to be like him by pitching knuckleballs."
She still wears his No. 49 and has talked with him about the unpredictable
The aim of the knuckleball — it’s actually thrown off the fingertip and
fingernails — is to put as little spin as possible on the ball, allowing the
wind currents to move it. The best ever was Phil Niekro, who earned 318
victories — the most ever by a knuckleballer — and a spot in the National
Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Like the knuckleball, Yoshida has been inconsistent. And she has to face the
fact that knuckleball pitchers are almost extinct, too prone to wild pitches and
passed balls and seen as risky in an era driven by analytics.
She was 0-4 in her 2010 stint in California, but Templeton recognized that
any 18-year-old would have had trouble against older competition. The record
book shows her at 5-10 in three seasons in various independent leagues in North
Yoshida returned to Japan in 2013 and has been slowed periodically with
injuries to her elbow and collarbone. Only now does she feel physically ready to
continue the odyssey.
In one of baseball’s great ironies — certainly contrary to logic — a uniform
worn by Yoshida and her bat were given to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But it was for her hitting prowess playing for the Chico Outlaws, and not for
In her first at bat — pitchers had to bat in the league — and with the bases
loaded, Yoshida singled to right field for her first hit and her first RBI.
"That was as a hitter not a pitcher, but they were all firsts so I donated my
uniform and bat," she said.
"But it’s only because of the knuckleball that I have been able to play
baseball up until now," she added.
Maybe her ball and glove will next be in Cooperstown.
Associated Press video journalist Koji Ueda contributed to this report.
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