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Japanese knuckleball pitcher Eri Yoshida plays in his own ‘Field of Dreams’

Eri Yoshida sat in the dugout of a baseball field across rural Japan, surrounded by rice paddies, narrow streets and traditional culture. Japan houses.

The sight immediately reminded me of the 1989 film Field of Dreams. Asian And Yoshida certainly has her own style.

The 31-year-old Japanese woman is a knuckleball pitcher with a sidearm and hopes to take her to the big leagues. America Or Japan.

“I know it’s going to be a really tough challenge, but I have a dream in my heart to play knuckleballs on the mounds of the majors,” Yoshida told the Associated Press in Japanese, demonstrating his knuckleball grip. .

“So I decided to challenge myself.”

Mr. Yoshida also admits that it is an outrageous fantasy. But it’s also very real, and reminds me of another movie, her classic 1992 film A League of Their Own, which glorifies the women’s baseball leagues in the United States during World War II.

She travels this week to play two months in the Empire League, an independent baseball league in upstate New York. She’s used to chasing oversized targets.

Yoshida has pitched for both men and women in Japan, the United States and Canada, and for the past few years has been a player and coach for a women’s team called Agekke (sponsor name) in Tochigi Prefecture, north-central Japan.

“I feel like my personality is really Knuckleball-ish,” Yoshida said. Her famously whimsical pitching is the lifeblood that keeps her going in baseball, and while she’s only 1.55 meters (5 ft 1) tall, she’s an excellent equalizer for a petite woman, but very difficult to control.

As a high school student, Yoshida was Japan’s first female professional baseball player and was dubbed the “Knuckle Princess” in newspaper headlines. She never played softball, but she started out as a female baseball player.

She then went on to further her fame, playing with boys again as an 18-year-old on an independent team in Chico, California, managed by former major league shortstop Gary Templeton.

Yoshida said, “He looked like my father.”

In her early teens, she noticed the boys growing taller and stronger. How do you compete? Then she watched former Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield throw the knuckleball that contributed to his 200th career win.

“I wasn’t tall or strong enough to throw a straight ball at 100 miles per hour, but I thought maybe I could throw a knuckleball at 105 kilometers per hour (65 miles per hour). ‘ she explained. She threw a knuckleball for the first time and wanted to be like him. ”

She still wears his number 49 jersey and talks to him about unpredictable pitching.

The goal of a knuckleball is to actually throw it from your fingertips and nails, but to put as little spin on the ball as possible and allow the wind to move the ball. The all-time record was Phil Niekro, the all-time leading knuckleballer with 318 wins and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Like Knuckleball, Yoshida was unsteady. And she has to face the fact that knuckleball pitchers are all but extinct, prone to too many wild pitches and passed balls, and considered dangerous in an age of analysis.

After going 0-4 in California in 2010, Templeton knew that an 18-year-old would struggle against older competitors. Her record books show her going 5-10 in three seasons in various independent leagues in North America.

Yoshida returned to Japan in 2013, but elbow and collarbone injuries regularly slowed him down. Only now does she feel physically ready to continue her journey.

In one of baseball’s great ironies, and certainly defying logic, the uniform and bat Yoshida wore were presented to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But it was for her hitting ability playing for the Chico Outlaws, not for her pitching.

In the league match, in the first at-bat when the pitcher was supposed to stand at bat, Yoshida hit a single to the right wing when the bases were loaded, recording his first hit and first RBI.

“It was as a hitter, not as a pitcher, but it was everyone’s first time, so we donated uniforms and bats,” she said.

“But it’s knuckleball that made baseball possible,” he added.

Perhaps her ball and glove will be in Cooperstown next.


Associated Press video journalist Koji Ueda contributed to this report.


Based in JapanFollow APs Sportswriter Stephen Wade’s Twitter (


AP Sports: and Japanese knuckleball pitcher Eri Yoshida plays in his own ‘Field of Dreams’

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