The legend of Yoshida
The Outlaws’ new female pitcher ignites a media frenzy
It is strange to be both a public figure and shrouded in mystery. Yet that’s exactly the position new Chico Outlaws pitcher Eri Yoshida finds herself in.
The publicity circus surrounding Yoshida’s debut last Saturday (May 29) brought in not only myriad new fans to Nettleton Stadium, but an onslaught of media coverage as well. Outlets ranging from the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, NPR and ESPN’s Page 2 had writers and photographers in Chico to document the first appearance by a female Japanese player in a men’s professional league.
In fact, Yoshida is the first woman in men’s professional ball since Ila Borders, who pitched from 1997-2000, finishing with the Zion Pioneerz of the Western Baseball League.
Yoshida is also the only woman to ever play professionally in two different countries.
“My teammates tried to make me relax because I was really nervous before,” she said during a brief press conference after the game.
Whether it be the way team managers are protecting her from traditional interviews or the language barrier that limits her to the most basic of English phrases, there’s an undeniable distance between Yoshida and her fans, and even her team, no matter how swimmingly things are going.
Then again, how well adjusted to Western culture can any Japanese person be after only a month in America?
As Outlaws Manager Garry Templeton says, it’s a work in progress between Yoshida and the rest of the Outlaws.
“She’s learnin’ just the way we’re learnin’. We learn to communicate the best we can with her,” Templeton said.
And whether she can understand minor-league hecklers yet, she has a grasp on American baseball that has made her acclimation process much easier.
“She’s starting to catch on; she knows all the baseball terminology,” Templeton said. “Right now it’s just a matter of us being around her more.”
Taka Sasaki, a fellow native of Japan, made the trip all the way from Arizona just to see Yoshida’s debut in Chico. Sasaki emigrated from Japan eight years ago, and thus understands just how daunting it can be to adjust to Western culture, he said.
“It must be tough,” Sasaki said. “Being away from the family is kind of hard.”
Clad in a No. 3 “Yoshida” jersey, Sasaki was happy to have witnessed Yoshida’s debut, even though he could see some of her confusion shining through.
“I could tell she couldn’t understand what the crowd was saying,” he said.
Before she took the field, Yoshida shared some laughs with her teammates and Rascal, the Outlaws’ mascot. The 18-year-old sensation, who is just over 5 feet tall and weighs only 115 pounds, even exchanged a traditional bow with catcher Robby Alcombrack.
Yoshida’s debut was successful, filled with the highs and lows of being a rookie pitcher. The “knuckle princess” excelled in a scoreless first inning against the Tijuana Cimarrones, inducing a double play to end the inning.
Jogging back to the dugout with a wide, youthful smile, Yoshida obviously had reached her happy place—and then there were the heartfelt high fives and fist bumps in the dugout.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Yokohama native smacked an RBI single in the bottom of the first that would’ve made Ichiro Suzuki proud.
Despite giving up four runs over three innings, Yoshida kept former big-leaguers like Alex Ochoa off balance when the knuckle ball was working, and kept Chico in the game—the Outlaws eventually won 8-6.
From admiring American knuckleballer Tim Wakefield as a child, to learning the pitch itself, to adjusting to life in Northern California: A professional start was just another step on Eri Yoshida’s road to prominence.
“I’m not sure if I’m influencing other players, but I like the idea of more women playing baseball,” she said.