OSAKA, Japan (AP) — Japan’s first female professional baseball player made her debut Friday, striking out one batter in the ninth inning.
Eri Yoshida, a 17-year-old who throws a sidearm knuckleball, took the mound during Kobe 9 Cruise’s 5-0 season-opening win over the Osaka Gold Villicanes in the newly formed Kansai Independent League.
The 5-foot, 114-pounder walked the first batter leading off the inning on four pitches and allowed a stolen base before striking out the next batter swinging at Osaka Dome. She was then replaced after facing two batters.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything other than just going out there and giving it my all,” said Yoshida, who is hoping to stick with the Kobe team. “I think this was a bad result but the stadium is great and the fans were really cheering me on. I want to be able to pitch more innings and become a pitcher who can be relied upon.”
Yoshida created a stir when she signed a contract in December. Some speculated the move was more of a publicity stunt to generate interest in the new league. There were 11,592 fans in the 45,000-seat stadium Friday.
Yoshida started playing baseball when she was in second grade and hopes to emulate Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
Until now, no woman had played against men in Japan. A women’s professional baseball federation was established in 1950 but it stopped after two seasons.
The Cruise and the other three teams in the Kansai league are more like farm teams and are a far cry from Japan’s mainstream pro teams.