The World is Loving Baseball
Japan has been one of the coutry of the world to slowly recommend and recognize that women can sometimes be as beneficial to business and sports as their male counterparts. There are not many female athletes outsdies of the tennis and golfing ranks who have captured the attention of the world.
But today in Tokyo, a sixteen year-old schoolgirl with a mean and wicked knuckleball has been selected as the first woman ever to play alongside the men in Japanese professional baseball. More amazing is the fact she is not only competing at a professional level, but that she is using the old school pitch as her primary weapon on the mound.
Eri Yoshida was drafted for a new independent league that will launch in April, drawing attention for a side-armed knuckler that her future manager Yoshihiro Nakata said was a marvel. She will play for the Kobe 9 Cruise team in the league. The new independent league will be used as a feeder system to the upper echelon of team currently playing in Japan.
Yoshida, who only stands about five foot and weighing in at a elfish 114 pounds, says she wants to follow in the footsteps of the great Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. As many know in the MLB, Wakefield was an average ballplayer until he experimented with the pitch abd it began a second coming of his career. By using the knuckleball as his primary pitch, Wakefield has been able to further extend his career beyond his playing days in the infield.
A female professional baseball federation existed for a few years in the 1950s, but Yoshida will become Japan‘s first-ever woman to play alongside professional male players.
Second Stop: India
Most people in India have never heard of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron or Jackie Robinson. They can tell you about Sachin Tendulkar, one of India’s greatest cricket players, but would tell you Michael Jordan is a clothes designerand underwear model, not a former professional basketball great.
Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, two 19-year-olds from small villages in India, desperately want to live the American dream. Their shot at it is a decidedly improbable one. They had never picked up a baseball until a year ago. Thursday, they will pitch in front of major league scouts in Tempe, Ariz., in hopes of landing a professional baseball contract.
Singh and Patel threw the javelin in India, and Singh played some cricket. When they came to the USA in May, Singh and Patel had no idea how to play catch, let alone use a water fountain. The first time they played catch, they threw the ball, and when it came back, they dropped their gloves and caught barehanded.
Singh came to the United States with Patel after being declared winner of the Million Dollar Arm contest in India, run by promoter Jeff Bernstein, Barry Bonds’ marketing agent. The contest — the second edition is scheduled to begin this month and targets India because of its population of 1.1 billion even though the country has never produced a major leaguer — was based on those who could throw the most pitches 85 mph or faster for strikes. Singh consistently hit 87 mph and earned $100,000.
When veteran major league scout Ray Poitevint went to India to see whether he had potential, he also recommended Patel, who threw harder but wasn’t as accurate. Singh, who resides in Bhadohi, became the richest person he had known with his contest winnings. He was a month away from joining the Army. His entire family — he is the youngest of eight children — worked in agriculture, where his dad earned $25 a month to drive a vegetable truck. Now, Singh says, his father pays someone else to drive the truck while he stays home.
Patel, who lived in Varanasi, isn’t sure whether his family — he has two brothers and one sister — quite understands what’s happening. He received $2,500 with an all-expenses trip to the USA. All they know for sure is that he’s an awful long way from home. Patel and Singh are scheduled to travel to India on Nov. 11. They plan to stay for three weeks, and then return to the United States, where they hope to begin their professional baseball careers.
The letters and phone calls to major league general managers went out weeks ago, and judging by the early responses, agent Jeff Borris says, there could be a large turnout Thursday. There will be at least 20 major league teams represented at the workout, Borris says; at least a half-dozen teams, including the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, confirmed they will attend.
House believes it’s no different from visualizing young Dominican pitchers in the major leagues. Simply, he says, every team must project the future in these two raw pitchers.
Singh, a 6-2, 195-pound left-hander, throws 89-90 mph with a split-fingered changeup. He continually tinkers with different breaking balls. Patel, a 5-11, 185-pound right-hander, throws 91-92 mph with a circle changeup. Patel says he’s the conservative one of the two, leaving the experimenting to Singh.
No matter what transpires, Singh and Patel say, they have had no regrets.
Final Destination: Italy
Italian officials accepted their bid to the2009 World Baseball Classicthe other day. Even though it featured MLB players of Italian heritage like Mike Piazza and Jason Grilli, the Italian team went only 1-2 in the 2006 tournament. Hey, at least they beat the Aussies.
But judging by the way these three are handling these baseballs, I don’t give them much of a chance in the ’09 edition, either.
To most people, “Italian baseball” probably sounds like a sports oxymoron, something akin to “Jamaican bobsled team.” Italian art, food, fashion, film — sure. But Italian baseball?
Yet Italy, with a proven track record in international competition, was one of only two European teams — along with the Netherlands — to be invited to the original 16-team World Baseball Classic. A major goal of the Classic was to foster the development of the sport in countries such as Italy, where, at its highest level, baseball currently operates as a semi-professional league relying on the generosity of sponsors who invest heavily and make no profit.
Wishing to field a competitive team in a tournament that featured many of the best players in the world, the Italian federation chose a roster that included both Italian players and Americans of Italian descent with minor or major league experience, including as its marquee player future Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza.
To qualify for the team, American players had to prove they were eligible for Italian citizenship based on their ancestry. That decision stirred some controversy in Italy. As expected, Italy did not advance past the first round, losing to the talent-laden teams from Venezuela (6-0) and the Dominican Republic (8-3) after beating Australia in the opening game (10-0). But everyone associated with the team came away feeling pleased with their performance and proud to have represented Italy on the big stage.