Standing just an inch over five feet, Eri Yoshida would not be intimidating to most people. But on the baseball field, it’s a different story. Hailing from Yokohama, Japan, Yoshida has broken all sorts of records since she was first drafted into the professional Japanese baseball team Kobe 9 Cruise at age 16. In fact, you can say she started breaking records when she was 16, because she was the first female ever to be drafted into a professional baseball team in Japan.
For decades, the news media has been filled with stories about women being underrepresented in fields like engineering, science and business. Few, though, have complained about the definite lack of women on the fields of professional baseball. In the United States, this didn’t seem to be an issue at all. In fact, most people didn’t even seem to notice it.
But then in 2010, a lot of people began to notice. That’s when Yoshida came to the U.S. and started setting more records. She joined the North American League’s Chico Outlaws, becoming the first female professional baseball player in America in a decade (her predecessor, the pitcher Ila Borders, retired from the Western Baseball League’s Zion Pioneerzz in 2000).
Not long after, Yoshida’s jersey and the bat she used to get her first hit–which also happened to be the first hit a woman earned in a men’s professional game in more than 50 years–became enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Oh, and she also earned the distinction in 2010 of being the first female baseball player to ever play professionally in two countries. Two months after that happened, she was the first to play in three countries.
Anyone, male or female, holding these records and distinctions would be entitled to plenty of bragging rights. The fact that her old Outlaws jersey is already at Cooperstown would be an incredible burden for any player, including those in the major leagues. But not Yoshida, who really seems to put her team above her own accomplishments (it’s common, for instance, to see her working as the team’s bat girl on nights when she’s not pitching). Her love of baseball is what keeps her in the game, she says, not the publicity.
Since 2011, Yoshida has pitched here, for the Na Koa Ikaika Maui club. She has earned the nickname “Knuckle Princess” for the erratic, corkscrew pitches she throws. Still just 20 years old, Yoshida is already a force to be reckoned with.
After the conclusion of Na Koa Ikaika’s July 28 loss against the Sonoma Grapes, I sat down with Yoshida at Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Stadium in Wailuku. Sammy Sutton acted as interpreter, but some material was clearly lost in translation. Here, though, is most of what she had to say:
MAUITIME: Why did you first get into baseball?
ERI YOSHIDA: I loved bsaseball ever since I was a kid.
MT: How old were you when you started playing baseball?
YOSHIDA: I started playing in my second year of elementary school.
MT: You’ve been playing professionally since you were 16. How do you balance your personal life with your career? [NOTE: Sutton and Yoshida clearly had a hard time with this question. Eventually Yoshida called over an older Japanese woman to help with the translation. After a few minutes of discussion in Japanese, Sutton said simply, “She was very happy that she got to pros.”]
MT: How do you feel about being the only woman on an all-male team?
YOSHIDA: I just work hard and play baseball. [NOTE: At this point, the older Japanese woman offered that, “She used to play with the boys, so she doesn’t feel any differently.”]
MT: What’s your favorite baseball team, other than Na Koa Ikaika?
YOSHIDA: The Hyogo Blue Thunders [NOTE: Yoshida pitched for the Thunders, in the Kansai region of Japan, this past spring. During that time, she became the first female baseball player to win in the Kansai Independent League.]
MT: Who is an an athlete who inspires you? Why?
YOSHIDA: Tim Wakefield, because I always watched him and learned how to throw a knuckleball from him.
MT: What has been the proudest moment in your career?
YOSHIDA: When I won my third game with Na Koa Ikaika this summer, which broke the record for number of wins by a female pitcher in any North American professional baseball league.
MT: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
YOSHIDA: Being a girl in a male-dominated sport.
MT: Who has been your biggest supporter?
YOSHIDA: My mom and dad.
MT: How long do you plan to stay on Maui?
YOSHIDA: Until September [when the season ends], and then I’m going back to Japan.
MT: What do you like most about Maui?
YOSHIDA: The weather and the fruit.
MT: How is Maui different from your native Japan?
YOSHIDA: The weather and the fruit. It’s very tasty.
MT: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
YOSHIDA: I don’t know where I’ll be, but hopefully still playing baseball, and at a higher level.