MLB: Gender bender: Wakefield tutors female knuckler
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The fraternity of knuckleball pitchers is small, and Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox is its active godfather.
Eri Yoshida hopes to expand that roster and break the gender barrier at the same time.
Yoshida, the petite 18-year-old who became the first female drafted by a Japanese professional team, Kobe 9 Cruise of the Kansai Independent Baseball League, made her pro debut on March 26, 2009, at the Osaka Dome. She learned how to throw a knuckleball as a young girl by watching video of Wakefield.
On Tuesday, at the Red Sox player development complex, Yoshida, wearing a gray Boston T-shirt with Wakefield’s name and number on the back, met her idol and pitched with him.
“I’m impressed,” Wakefield said. “She spun a couple, but for the most part it was very good. She was able to take the spin out of a lot of them and they had quite a lot of movement on them.”
Yoshida, who stands 5-foot-1 and throws her knuckleball with a sidearm motion, is in the United States to pitch in the independent Arizona Winter League. She got her first win on Feb. 12, tossing four shutout innings for the Yuma Scorpions. But she admitted she was nervous working with the 43-year-old Wakefield.
“I think everything that he taught me is going to give me a chance to really work on what I need to work on,” she said through Red Sox team translator Masa Hoshino. “But also, I got a chance to meet him and it really gave me some courage and the confidence I need to really get back to training hard.”
Wakefield, who is entering his 18th major league season, made his first All-Star team last year. He was happy to share his knowledge with someone willing to try the knuckler.
“It’s an honor to have somebody carry on a knuckleball tradition,” he said. “And somebody that’s doing it because she likes what I do. It’s pretty cool to have someone come over to the States from Japan. I heard about her last year. I know she’s pitching in independent leagues now. But for her to come all the way to Fort Myers and watch me throw, it was an honor for me to just talk to her and give her some tips.”
Wakefield’s tutoring was the first direct coaching Yoshida has received on the fluttering pitch.
“I kind of know where she’s at, because I was there when I first started throwing. Nobody knew what to do,” he said. “It’s pretty cool that I’m able to give back to somebody that wants to carry on the tradition of throwing a knuckleball.”
Yoshida, who said she would remember “everything” from her session with Wakefield, spoke with the Red Sox knuckleballer afterward.
“I told him that my dream is to become a pitcher like him,” she said. “And I was able to tell him that in English directly.”