TOKYO // Japanese schoolgirl Eri Yoshida became the country's first woman to sign a professional contract with a men's baseball team today. The 16-year-old pitcher, whose favourite pitch is a knuckleball, was drafted by Kobe 9 Cruise, a team from the newly formed Kansai independent league, earlier this month. "My hope is to be able to contribute to the team," a nervous-looking Yoshida told a packed news conference. "I just want to be able to play at the same level as my teammates.
"It is a big stage for me. I can't believe there are so many people here ? my hands and legs are shaking," she added in a quivering voice. Yoshida will transfer from high school in Kawasaki, on the outskirts of Tokyo, to the Kansai region in western Japan to be able to continue her studies while playing for the Kobe team. Japan had a professional baseball league for women in the 1950s but it folded after only two years.
The country's Nippon Professional Baseball body only lifted its ban on female players in 1991 while "little league" junior teams began accepting girls only 10 years ago. Weighing just over 50 kilograms and standing just over five feet tall, Yoshida promised to not be intimidated after smashing the sport's glass ceiling. "Wait until they see my knuckleball," she said. "I'll get a few batters out with that."