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Chico Outlaws 18 year old female pitcher Eri Yoshida, of Japan, pitches against the Edmonton Capitals in the the second inning at Nettleton Stadium on June 24, 2010, in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/AP)
Chico Outlaws 18 year old female pitcher Eri Yoshida, of Japan, pitches against the Edmonton Capitals in the the second inning at Nettleton Stadium on June 24, 2010, in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/AP)

Knuckle Princess ready for Canadian debut Add to ...

Some have looked at Eri Yoshida in cleats and cap and held their nose in contempt.

What in the world is she doing out there on the mound? She stands 5 foot 1 and weighs less than Barry Bonds's head. She's 18, can't speak more than a few words of English, can't throw over the top and her best pitch comes in at the speed of slow-motion.

Little wonder baseball purists, even some in the independent Golden League, have dismissed the Japanese side-armed Knuckle Princess as nothing more than a novelty act, a gimmick to invite people into the park so they can gawk at the first woman to pitch professionally in three countries (Japan, the United States, and now Canada).

But Chris Van Rossum doesn't think that way.

He believes Yoshida's Chico Outlaws and his Victoria Seals should have marketed the daylights out of Tuesday's game at Royal Athletic Park. Put up billboards. Invited fans to come and take photographs of her.

The way Van Rossum sees it, Yoshida is good publicity - perhaps even good for him.

"Maybe I can get a couple of hits off her and get my average up," Van Rossum said yesterday from Victoria. "I've been hurt and hitting below .200 right now, and I've never done that my entire career."

Van Rossum is a 36-year-old Californian with a strong arm and a warm personality. In his all minor-league career, the outfielder has played for 19 teams in 14 seasons, been a Giant three times, a Captain, Duke, Lumber King, Silver Hawk, Cracker Cat, a member of the Mudville Nine and a Seal.

He's also played in Colombia, Mexico and was the first alternate with the Greek baseball team at the 2004 Athens Olympics. All of which means he's seen plenty in his playing time. But this - facing a young woman who throws nothing but the knuckleball, the slowest, most unpredictable pitch in baseball - is a first for him.

"We've asked other teams," he said of any scouting reports on Yoshida. "A knuckleball is hard to hit if it's on. I've faced knuckleball pitchers in the past, and if you can throw it with different speeds, that just makes it more difficult [to hit] I don't know if she can do that."

Yoshida (0-2, 8.35 earned-run average) made her Golden League debut in May, and gave up four runs in three innings. She also drove in the winning run before surrendering her bat and jersey to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But as Chico fought its way to finishing first in the opening half of the GBL season, Yoshida pitched less frequently (five starts spanning 18 1/3 innings) and that brought out the critics who suggested she hadn't really earned her spot, beyond being a media darling.

Van Rossum has a more open mind.

"As players, we've all talked about it. We want to see her throw. She's an icon; she's all over the news. I think the people who might have a problem with her might be her own teammates," he said. "They could be thinking after they lose a game, 'Why do we have this woman on our team?' Guys at this level are still very competitive."

Van Rossum recalled his short time with the Duluth-Superior Dukes in the Northern League. He arrived a year after the Dukes had pitched left-hander Ila Borders, mostly from the bullpen. Some players were still bitter over Borders being part of the team.

"I heard stuff about her. The guys who had been there weren't happy," Van Rossum said. "She'd lose games and there was a feeling she was there just to sell tickets."

Yoshida looks to have been well-received by her Chico teammates and the team's fans. She recently received a proclamation of achievement from the mayor of Chico for drawing new attention to the Northern California city. She's done the full media gauntlet, worked her interpreter to the bone, and her appearance in Victoria has given an ordinary matchup something extra to talk about, especially for a veteran who has seen plenty in his journeys.

"I was in Lancaster [Pa.] where we played one night wearing football jerseys. I was in one place where they had bring-your-dog-to-the-park night," Van Rossum said. "My least-favourite place was Clinton [Iowa] They have a dog food plant there and the entire town smells like dog food."

(No, they don't have bring-your-dog-to-the-park nights in Clinton.)

But staring down a female knuckleballer from Japan? That'll be a first.

"I understand there's a business side to all this," Van Rossum said of Yoshida's start. "I just want to sit back and be patient [on Yoshida's pitches] Sit and hit."

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

 

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