Female Japanese pitching star swings through Calgary

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:13 AM ET

Eri Yoshida was waiting for her translator to relay the question.

The go-between, though, figured she could answer this one without Yoshida’s input.

Asked about the young pitcher’s profile in her home country, Kayoko Ohira grinned and responded, “she’s so much popular in Japan.”

“I think most of the people are following her — following the Internet, Youtube, all of the news.”

Turns out, she’s becoming a pretty big deal on this side of the pond, too.

The 18-year-old knuckleballer is in her rookie campaign with the Golden League’s Chico Outlaws, making her the first female to pitch in a professional baseball league in North America in the past decade.

Yoshida is scheduled to get her seventh start Sunday at Footills Stadium (1:35 p.m.), facing the host Calgary Vipers for the first time. On Friday afternoon, hours before a ‘Girls Night’ promotion at the ballpark, the sidearm specialist fielded questions from the local media.

“She’s so happy that everybody is cheering for her because she’s unique right now,” her translator said. “Everybody is cheering her up and helping her in any way.”

Chico’s roster is not short on proven commodities, with Bobby Hill splitting four big-league seasons between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates and catcher Mike Rose having spent time with nine different MLB organizations.

Between them, Outlaws pitchers Wayne Franklin, Matt Perisho and Mark McLemore won 28 games in the show.

But there’s no doubting who is the star attraction on this team.

“Everybody, basically, always wants to know if she’s gonna pitch,” said Outlaws field manager Garry Templeton, a three-time National League all-star who racked up more than 2,000 hits in a big-league career that spanned

15 summers. “It doesn’t bother us. She deserves the attention — an 18-year-old girl travelling around the world and playing baseball at this high a level deserves the attention.

“She’s been great for the team. She’s got 22 big brothers over there, and they’d kill for her. They just love her, and it’s exciting to have her here.”

The critics, however, suggest Yoshida might be in over her head.

After getting shelled by the Victoria Seals, who attracted a franchise-record 4,753 fans to watch her pitch four days ago, Yoshida is sporting an 0-3 record with a bloated 10.89 earned-run average.

Those are big numbers, even in the hitter-friendly Golden League, but the 5-foot-1, 115-lb. righty is trying to treat every appearance like a learning experience.

Asked if she could say something in English, Yoshidas offered up, “I will do my best.”

Her translator elaborated.

“She’s really, really positive right now,” Ohira said. “Even though she’s not having a good time, because she just started, every single step she can take, it’s like, practice more, practice more and learn more from lots of friends. She’s trying to be a better knuckle princess, as we know.”

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos