At 43 years old, Tim Wakefield is by far the oldest Red Sox player on the roster. In fact, the closest player to Wakefield in terms of age is Jason Varitek, and even he was born six years after the knuckleballer.
Yet even a veteran among veterans can see something he’s never seen before when he heads to spring training for the umpteenth straight year. That’s true for Wakefield, and the “something” came in the form of an 18-year-old girl from Japan.
The girl, Eri Yoshida, is known as the “Japanese Schoolgirl Knuckleballer.” Yoshida modeled her pitching after Wakefield and made history in 2008 when she was drafted by a Japanese professional team. On Monday, Wakefield met his protege, and she clearly left an impression.
“I was very impressed,” Wakefield said. “It’s an honor to have somebody to carry on a knuckleball tradition, and someone who’s doing it because she likes what I do. It’s pretty cool to have somebody come over to the states from Japan … 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.”
Yoshida was still glowing from excitement when she talked with the assembled media.
“I never thought I could ever feel this happy,” Yoshida said through an interpreter.
Yoshida said that her goal is to become a pitcher like Wakefield and that she was feeling more than a little nervous when meeting the Red Sox pitcher. Still, she said it was an extraordinarily valuable experience.
“I think both in terms of pitching technique and also the mental aspects of the game, he taught me a lot in a lot of great detail,” she said.
Though the two grew up on different continents in different eras, Wakefield related to Yoshida in one way in particular.
“She told me she was self-taught, and this was the first time she’s actually had any coaching throwing a knuckleball,” Wakefield said. “So I kind of know where she’s at because I was there. When I first started throwing, nobody knew what to do. 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 is pitching this year in the Arizona Winter League, and she recorded her first win on Feb. 13, when she pitched four scoreless innings for the Yuma Scorpions. She was offered a contract to play for the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League over the weekend.
Back in 2008, when Wakefield heard that Yoshida had been signed by a Japanese team, he told The Associated Press: “Hope I can see her pitch one day. I’m honored that someone wants to become me. I wish her the best of luck. Maybe I can learn something from her.”
This week, he learned that when you’re a member of the Red Sox, your influence knows no international boundaries.
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