16-year-old Girl to Pitch in the Pros

While the story of 16-year-old Eri Yoshida being selected by the Kobe 9 Cruise of the young Kansai Independent League has made it around the world by now, I thought I’d take a moment to mention it here.  Miss Yoshida’s signing raises more issues than just her sex, which will draw headlines but doesn’t change much.  What is more significant to changes in professional and semi-pro ball in Japan is the continuing lack of eligibility requirements for players (beyond the ability to play ball, of course, and holding the right passport at the right time, on the right squad.)

I’ll be honest, I know more about the Kansai Independent League now than I did a few days ago.  For instance, I can now name a team in it.  I’ll also admit to assuming a situation similar to that of Ayumi Kataoka of the Ibaraki Golden Golds when I first heard the story.  For a small independent team, though, a 16-year-old girl is more of an asset than any man.  It’s about publicity. 

(I’m not belittling Miss Yoshida’s talents, though – she did hold her male counterparts hitless for an inning in tryouts.  I’d also like to congratulate sportswriters, who’ve never been able to resist obvious jokes, bad puns, or having the Tigers “maul” opponents, for not mentioning that no young buck of a ballplayer was even able to get to first with the 16-year-old girl pitching.)

In fact, I see no reason that a young woman couldn’t succeed in baseball, especially as a pitcher, especially a submariner.  She won’t have to outrun men or compete with them on brute strength, she’ll just have to develop good control.  More power to her.

I don’t really care that Eri Yoshida is of the fairer sex (although that term sounds silly when she’s fanning the boys.)  If she were five years older, I doubt I’d be writing this.  What interests me more is that she’s sixteen years old.  Sixteen.

Her sex has overshadowed that fact, but imagine the debates if she were a guy.  So, after realizing this was not an Ayumi Kataoka situation, I immediately thought of young Master Kento Tsujimoto, who was 15 when the Hanshin Tigers signed him almost exactly four years ago.  The debates that went on then still stand.

Is the Kansai Independent Baseball League fully professional?  If so, can a minor be employed for work that will involve road trips, late hours, etc.  What about school?  (Weekend games won’t conflict with classes at the Kobe high school to which she’s transferring, but surely the team practices and travels.)  What about the logistics of a 16-year-old living in close quarters with adult ballplayers?  Now imagine that 16-year-old is a girl.  How’s that going to work?

I wish Eri Yoshida all the best and hope to see her and more young women succeed in competition with the men.  (I’d rather see the girls playing than badly lip-singing to unbearable pop tunes.)  However, I am in the camp that says it is inappropriate to sign a player too young to have finished high school to play pro ball at any level.

  • i think it’s great. hopefully this will open the door and the eyes of pro leagues around the world. i can see woman with pro talent from the usa playing for teams in japan just like men players from america who have been competing in pro leagues in japan for several decades.

    and yes, woman, (ira borders comes to mind) have competed in independent pro leagues in our country (usa) in recent years too. hopefully we wil see more of that in the coming years.

    there is a pretty good pool of pitchers that just competed in the 2008 woman’s baseball world cup that was played in japan this past august. the japanese support woman’s baseball as well as any country in the world. coverage of this event was broadcast on japanese television, while coverage of the world tournement was hardly noticed in the usa.

  • i do agree that the player (man or woman) should finish high school first.

    i also believe that a pitcher (man or woman) should develop a fastball before becoming a knuckleball pitcher. remember, tim wakefield was a shortstop in the minor league when he switched positions and started working on the pitch. most of the great knuckleball hurlers turned to that pitch after they turned pro. some learned the pitch when they were on the brink of being released from organized baseball.

    i’m not saying it’s not a great pitch. i’m just saying learn to throw, and throw well with a good motion first.

  • I agree on the knuckleball, Gary. It seemes to bestow career longevity on otherwise good pitchers, but I’m not so sure about a knuckleballer whose fastball is going at sub-high school speeds. 60 kph? 37.5 mph? I couldn’t find the plate if my life depended on it, but I can throw a ball faster than a speeding bicycle. She’ll need amazing control and a whole lot of variety if she can’t produce even minimal speed.

    As for the Ladies’ Baseball World Cup, I think a lot of the sttention paid to it was contingent upon its being held in Japan, and even more so upon its being in Matsuyama, which has two gorgeous new stadia, one of which is almost pro quality (it would need and outfield concourse, a new scoreboard, and another bathroom or two), and is pushing hard to attract big events such as conferences and sporting events. The sports and recreation complex just south of the city is massive, as is the relatively new conference center in the Northeast part of the city, on the way out to the Dogo Onsen. Ehime put some effort into promoting the event.

    Also, in general, the LBWC had almost all of the key points to making it popular in Japan for a moment:
    – It took place in Japan.
    – It was billed as a world championship.
    – Japan was competing in it and was favored to do well, if not win.
    – It was novel and new.
    – It came on the heels of the Olympics, which are quite popular in Japan, and was able to ride those coattails to garnering some viewers.

    The only thing it lacked was a household-name young celebrity or two.

    Hold the LBWC in another country, have Japan field an uncompetitive team, or hold it nowhere near the Olympics and it’s doubtful it would even be televised, other than highlights of Japan games.

    None of that, though, is to say that I am anything other than firmly in favor of promoting women’s baseball or having women compete with men, as long as they’re competing for real and not being brought into competitive leagues (as opposed to pure entertainment leagues) as a promotional stunt. In other words, I have my doubts that we’ll see a woman on an NPB or MLB roster (or any team affiliated with them), even if everyone involved is very accepting of the idea.

  • Ken

    Miss Yoshida’s signing raises more issues than just her sex

    Throughout article, the word “gender” should be used instead of “sex.”

    That’s what I was trying to remember today when I was telling you that I couldn’t remember what I wanted to remember.

  • I heartily disagree, Ken. Animals, including humans, have a sex – either male or female. “Gender” is a grammatical term that has only been applied to people because (titter) it’s embarrassing to say “sex” (giggle). Spanish, French, and German nouns have gender. Your being male is your sex.

  • garrett, it’s hard for me to speak of a player other than the girl who was voted the best pitcher in the at the women’s world cup. her name is marti sementelli, and yes, she is my daughter. she just turned 16 and has been competing against boys since she was 5 years old.

    you say eri is throwing 37.5 mph? is that true? marti throws every day. she throws in the mid’70’s with an a assortment of breaking pitches and off speed pitches. search marti sementelli on the internet….and she just happens to live right in our own back yard.

    don’t knock the coverage in japan. i got a dvd of the bronze metal game that marti pitched against australia. it’s fantastic! if the world cup were held in america i’ll bet you anything the big shots at espn and other so-called sports channels would rather cover a poker game or a spelling bee or a beach volley game or a pig race, over women’s baseball.

  • That should be high 60’s in mph, but that’s her fastball, not sure about the knuckler. There was a unit mishap up there earlier.

  • Simon, a unit error would explain an awful lot. The first report I read put her fastball at just over 60 kph. 60 mph would be, obviously, much better.

    Gary, my heartiest congrats to your daughter. I was in Matsuyama for a Swallows-Carp game and they were proudly promoting the LBWC. Nevertheless, I stand by my earlier comments on the coverage of women’s ball in Japan – if that tourney were not in Japan or if Japan were nto a favorite, you’d hear very little. Heck, I have to pay an extra 1,000 yen a month just to see Swallows games on cable channel 921. In other words, I don’t think any disrespect is intended towrds the LBWC, I just think the promotion of many events is unsatisfactory.

    Sadly, I think you’re also right about coverage in the US. Granted, I’d take a baseball game over just about anything on TV, but the promotion of anything not already famous is pathetic. I doubt I would’ve heard anything at all about the LBWC had I not trekked down to Botchan Stadium to watch an NPB game (and take in the world-class onsen and local brew.)

    Is the LBWC going to be a regular event? Is it going to be in Japan again? I really don’t know anything about it.

    Again, kudos to your daughter. I’m not a small guy, but I couldn’t throw 70 mph and have the ball go in the direction I wanted at the same time. (I think I’d also strike out in T-ball. I’m much better at blowing hot air than actually doing anything baseball-related.)

  • location, location, location is the name of the game for pitching. that’s followed by movement and then velocity.

    i guess i can’t comment on eri until i see her pitch. all i know is marti sementelli throws every day 7 days a week and the best is yet to come for her.

    garrett, thanks for your insights. i’ve really enjoyed this.

  • Agreed on all counts, Gary. Control seems to be a more precious commodity than raw velocity. Of all of those, movement seems to be the hardest to acquire, but I say that having never been a pitcher.

    Seven days a week! Wow, that’s like old-school Japanese training. Some Japanese pitchers say they like to get a 100 pitches a day in (when they’re healthy.) Isn’t she worried about injury or fatigue, though? Even is she’s not pushing herself in practice the way she would in a game, pitching every day has to be tiring.

    I’ve always been curious about the wide gap between philosophies for training pitchers. It’s a fine balance between practice making perfect and too much practice wearing out arms.

    Thank you, too, Gary. It’s good to hear from someone with first-hand insights into the situation.

  • kimnumbbum

    If the girl can further the cause of her working class comrades, then I applaud her knuckle-ball. But if she is a pawn of the capitalists, I cannot brook such idle sportplay.

  • garrett, you don’t throw all out every day. on days you don’t throw all out you play a light game of catch, then get on a mound for ten to fifteen minutes and throw at about 60 to 70 percent of full velocity. throwing a baseball between pitching outings actually heals the arm. this is a regulated throwing program. what causes arm injurys is overexertion and over extention, muscling up, trying to throw harder than you’re capable of throwing. with my daughter, marti, we have followed leo mazzone’s program that he used for many years as the pitching coach for the atlanta braves. mazone was featured with marti on a news piece at dodger stadium when she was 8 years old. for years people told me that she was going to burn out. “there are only so many pitches in the arm,” they would say. they didn’t understand that her arm was getting stronger…not wearing out. she’s been on this program for over 10 years. last year follwing a 7 inning complete game in high school where she allowed only one hit, she threw a light bullpen with me the next day…she felt no pain or soreness in her arm. she’s been pitching in organized baseball since she was 6 years old. she has thrown more innings than anyone kid i know and she has never suffered an arm injury. good form and throwing in a regulated progam has worked wonders for her and i believe it works for everybody. more kids hurt their arms throwing light balls such as tennis or nerf balls or throwing all out before a proper warm up. when your arm hurts most is when a pitcher has been idle for a few weeks, then throws all out in a game. you can bet that pitcher will have problems combing his or her hair the next day.

  • great reply, gary. looks like nobody want to touch that one.

  • Sorry, Gary. Got sidetracked. I’ll get back to you today in more detail.

  • Good point, Gary. What you’re saying is rather intuitive – just as lifting weights can make you stronger (provided you’re not overdoing it), it makes sense that regular throwing would keep you loose and help build strength. It also makes sense that a young kid would have been building strength rather than wearing herself out.

    I’ve heard that line that there are only so many pitches in an arm, too, but I’ve never really understood why injury is viewed as being almost inevitable.

    There’s always the Takehiko Bessho way: Throw all out until your arm breaks, then throw all out some more. When you finally hurt yourself badly, throw all out for rehab, then throw all out to warm up for throwing all out. If you happen to be Bessho, you’ll become a legend. If not, your career will last until the ripe old age of about 25. Unfortunately, there are apparently still coaches and managers over here who are convinced that the answer to everything is to tough it out and go harder. Things are changing, but I’ve heard that the Red Sox were a bit worried when they found out Daisuke Matsuzaka was old school and liked to throw hard every day.

    On a different note, where does a pitcher like Marti go after high school? Are NCAA programs amenable to female players? Is there a living to be made on the baseball field for women?

  • good question, garrett. it is a question i do get a lot. my answer is, she’ll take it year by year. marti keeps improving. she gets better every year. we will just see what happens. already she has experienced more than most kids her age experience in a lifetime. search the web — marti sementelli. national television features, guest on talk shows, numerous articles, and this summer winning the best pitcher award at the woman’s baseball world cup in japan. i belive all this was made possible by following the throwing program she’s been on for the last decade.

    if she keeps doing what she’s doing…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

  • I hope you’re right, Gary. I looked Marti up when you first commented here and was certainly surprised. Baseball seems to have done well by her so far – here’s hoping it continues to do so. (If she keeps getting better, we here will be the first to hope she comes to Tokyo – our squad could use some help in the bullpen.)

    With so many girls going into softball, instead of baseball, and a relative lack of girls in competitive baseball, what made your daughter decide to get into baseball in the first place? It’s the road less traveled, to say the least.

  • garrett how are you?

    Marti stuck out 9 in three innings in her little league debut at the age of 7 and it has just snow balled from there. over five hundred strike outs later marti would be tested when she moved up in leagues at age 13 and had to pitch from the big league distance of 60 feet 6 inches. it turned out that she would be more effective. her pitches had more movement while her fastball improved. at 14 she led her team to a championship with a 14-0 record. following that season i recieved several calls from high school baseball coaches who wanted marti to pitch for their teams…and here we are.

    marti and i recognize baseball and softball as two distinctive sports, sort of like tennis and ping pong. there are similarities but there are huge differences too, especially pitching.

    we decided as long as marti keeps getting batters out she will stick to the sport she started playing since she was two years old. baseball!

    garrett, what did you mean by your squad in tokyo? playing in japan is something i always thought marti would have a shot at some day. marti’s pitching program and style resembles the japanese more than the pitchers in this country. marti loved japan and loved pitching there at the world cup where she was named “best pitcher.” and with the signing of yoshida, maybe this will open the door for marti in the near future.

  • Even throwing a strike is pretty impressive at 7 years old. Throwing multiple K’s is fantastic.

    2 years old? Wow. I don’t think I was even walking well at 2, much less playing baseball. (Then again, I was a wretched player even when I was plenty old enough to play.)

    “Our squad” is not really mine in any way. I was just referring to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows with the possessive pronouns that fans are wont to use. Unfortunately, the only pull I have with them is whatever influence a few bucks each game has – I’m guessing none.

    While I’d assume big league clubs, like “our” Swallows, would kick and fight and pitch a fit over the idea of even a female sportswriter in the locker room on a regular basis, smaller leagues are different.

    Eri Yoshida got her shot because the Kansai Independent League is brand spanking new and has neither an ingrained boys’ club culture, nor a good reason to avoid new things, such as 16-year-old girls on the mound.

    While I frequently complain that each NPB team has only one farm team and think they should seek to absorb some of Japan’s numerous independent pro, semi-pro, and amateur leagues, there are a few bright spots to the system as it stands. Perhaps the biggest of these is that, for reasons ranging from mere gimmickry (Ayumi Kataoka playing 2B for the Ibaraki Golden Golds – her looks are as important as her glove) to greater open-mindedness (Eri Yoshida struck the guys out – that women are in positions of power in the KIL and Kobe 9 Cruise probably helped her get that chance, but she’s not there to bat her eyes for the cameras), the independent leagues give a lot of people who aren’t in the NPB system a chance to play competitively.

    I think we’ll see more Eri Yoshida-esque moves in the future in Japan (and who knows? Maybe a Marti Sementelli.) Despite all of the talk of declining interest in baseball in Japan or of greater competition from other sports and other forms of entertainment, attendance for all but one Pacific League team increased this past season, there has not been a marked decline in verifiable attendance at Central League parks, attendance improved for the Shikoku-Kyushu League, and new independent leagues and amateur teams keep popping up around the country, I’d say baseball is doing quite well. The problem is not the sport or a lack of interest from the fans, but incompetent and indifferent management and promotion on the part of the big league clubs.

    In short, while I don’t think the Swallows (or any other NPB club) are going to seriously think about signing a girl anytime soon, I do think there are opportunities in Japan, at a competitive level, for anyone who can play. Whether or not there’s a living there in financial terms is another question.

    Back in the ’40s, there was Victor Starffin, who opened the doors to foreign players, then, in 1951, it was Wally Yonamine who became the first American to play here after the War, then went on to win a CL title as manager of the Dragons. Eri Yoshida became the first woman to be signed to a professional contract with a men’s team. Maybe Marti can be the first foreign woman to play pro ball in Japan. Someone’s going to do it sooner or later.

    BTW, while replying to you, I Googled Marti and saw her Nike ad. The Boston Red Sox? Ooohh. . . Ken Worsley, who comments here and writes with me on TPR, wuold be pleased, but I’ll admit I was hoping they wouldn’t get their mitts on Tazawa.
    That said, it would be awesome if she did pitch for the Red Sox.

  • thanks for all your insight, garrett. stay in touch and i will keep you up to date on marti’s progress as she battles the boys in high school competion in 2009.

  • Ken

    I’ll admit I was hoping they wouldn’t get their mitts on Tazawa.
    That said, it would be awesome if she did pitch for the Red Sox.

    The hatred of Boston is obviously a product of insecurity 😉

    The Red Sox will take anyone who is willing to excel. Tazawa realized that, and I agree it would be awesome to see Marti pitch for the Greatest Baseball Club to Ever Exist.

    By the way, can Marti play safety or corner? The Pats are really hurting man. Patriotic Americans need to do all we can to prevent the Jets or Dolphins from willing the AFC East.

  • I would say hatred so much as disappointment. I was happy when the Red Sox won the Series in 2004, but now there’s nothing appealing about them for the non-Sox fan. They’re going the way of the Yankees (outside of Boston, at least) – everyone’s a Red Sox fan, everyone’s proud of that Red Sox tradition. Phooey.

    You and Marti might be for real, Ken, but you’re now joined by a legion of folks who were Yankee fans four or five years ago. I’m also a team-not-player guy, so I have a bad reaction to,”My favorite team is the Red Sox because they have Matsuzaka.”

  • Ken

    you’re now joined by a legion of folks who were Yankee fans four or five years ago.

    Haha. That’s rich. Never met any such people, let alone been ‘joined’ by any of them. There are those that grew up with season tickets, and those who didn’t. You’re either born into it and die a fan – those with the burden – or you become a fan for some reason. But the two crowds have nothing in common.

  • One can legitimately become a fan – this entire blog is a testament to that.

    Have you seen the city you call home lately? A few years ago, there were Yankees caps everywhere and everyone loved the Yanks. Before that, it was the Mariners. Now it’s the Red Sox.

    Now, it’s possible that the number of people who are into MLB increase by 50% to 100% every few years, or it’s possible that a lot of front-running bandwagon jumpers are now Red Sox fans – the Sox are the team of choice for the bandwagon. Which do you think is more likely?

    Now sure, you could get into a “they’re not really fans because the Red Sox are like Orthodox Judaism”, but that’s just an easy way to make all the “real” fans people you like. I’d like to say the wanna-be chinpira at Jingu aren’t really Swallows fans, but that’s not my decision to make. Likewise, I wish it were a generally accepted fact that the obnoxious frat boys at Wrigley weren’t really Cubs fans, but. . .

    And don’t, don’t describe being a Red Sox fan as a burden. That’s a load of malarkey and you know it. You guys got credit for being long-suffering when you never even had the second-longest dry spell. The Red Sox got sympathy that should have gone to Chicago and credit for “tradition” that should have been spread to a lot of other teams. The Red Sox, even in their lean years, were kind of a fashion commodity, even if the grizzled old never-missed-a-home-game-since-1962 guys and their sons don’t like it. Likewise, Wrigley is a tourist attraction.

    Moreover, no Red Sox, or Cubs, or White Sox fan has to justify his allegiance, much less his team’s existence. When Boston finally got their title, people were happy for them and their fans. Know who suffers? Expos fans. Rays fans. All those not-really-the-Bigs newcomers that just get no love or respect and whose fans are not really baseball fans. How many people operated on the assumption that every Rays fan was a bandwagon-jumper this past season? That’s crap the Red Sox and Cubs wouldn’t have to put up with.
    Burden, my ass.

    Wow, that’s the most anti-Red Sox thing I think I’ve ever said.

  • Ken Worsley

    You know I’m half taking the piss, right?

    Rays fans.

    Rays fans? There were eight people at Tropicana Field on opening day, and three of them were Wade Boggs. That said, it was great to see a city get behind their team and they had a hell of a run. Hopefully they retain that fan base over the lean years to come.

    If the Red Sox (or Yankees, or Mariners) want to make money merchandising their goods overseas, no problem. More power to them – Serie A and the Premiership figured that out before MLB and showed the sheer power of signing a few big name Japanese players – though I think the big impact Japanese players to MLB have done much more in terms of numbers than the soccer imports, even including Nakata.

    Whereas some European football signings of Japanese players smacked of attempts to sell gear and kits in Japan, I don’t get that sense from the MLB signings.

    But I haven’t seen nearly the amount of Sox gear floating around Tokyo as I saw of Seattle and New York.

    Well, as a Red Sox fan there are more pressing issues on the agenda:

    1) The Yankees have signed CC Sabathia, though they still need another bat (or five)

    2) The Sox need to sign Teixeira, especially now with the Yanks going after him.

    3) Management needs to catch hell over bringing back the “retro” road uniforms for next year. The 1980s are retro? Why? I like the blue road alternate uniform better, though not the hat with the Hanging Sox old school logo on it.

  • . . . the hat with the Hanging Sox old school logo on it

    The Red Sax?

    Rays fans? There were eight people at Tropicana Field on opening day, and three of them were Wade Boggs.

    Precisely. Now that’s a burden. That’s suffering. Slate ran an article a while back saying that being a Cubs fan was like enduring a constant, on-again off-again toothache, whereas being a Rays fan was like being stabbed in the face with a butter knife, repeatedly, every day for ten years. I quite agree.

    As for merch, I agree that teams should seel what they can sell. The Yanks always lead the merch stakes b/c purchasing Yankees goods ahs nothing whatsoever to do with the New York Yankees as a baseball team. I see more Red Sox stuff than I ever saw Mariners stuff, though. Way more.

  • Eri struck a guy out tonight in her first pro appearance! Not a great appearance (a walk and a K), but she’s the first woman to appear in a pro game in Japan:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/more/03/27/japan.girl.ap/index.html

  • was it a major league appearance? if not, a walk and strike out is not bad especially for the second best women’s baseball pitcher in the world. get back to me and i’ll tell you who is number one.

  • Gary,

    Ha! I know who’s #1 – you already told us! But no, Eri’s appearance was in the Kansai Independent League, a pretty far cry from Japan’s big league.

  • thanks for responding, ken. i’m hoping marti gets a shot like eri in a couple years. this is a great story regardless of where she is playing. maybe japan will welcome someone like marti if she continues to progress the way i expect she will in the years to come.

  • Pingback: Eri Yoshida signs with Chico Outlaws : ????Tokyo Yakult Swallows()