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12/04/08 5:59 PM EST

Knuckleballers support Japanese girl

Wakefield, Dickey offer kind words to recently drafted pitcher

Eri Yoshida, the 16-year-old schoolgirl who this week became Japan's first female professional baseball player, has a couple of fellow knuckleball pitchers pulling for her.

"I believe in the pitch, so if she could throw it, she has a chance," R.A. Dickey of the Mariners told MLB.com. "My initial thought is that it is some kind of gimmick, but I have no idea. I have never seen her throw. I would like to see her pitch, but a 16-year-old girl throwing a knuckleball? It's hard for me to imagine that, but I don't want to be a naysayer to anyone's dream. More power to her."

The high school student was drafted on Nov. 16 by the Kobe 9 Cruise, a pro team in a new independent Japanese league set to begin its inaugural season in April.

She signed a contract with the team on Tuesday.

"My hope is to be able to contribute to the team," Yoshida said at a news conference. "This is a big stage. I don't feel like I've become a pro baseball player, but I want to do my best."

Yoshida, who stands five feet tall and weighs 114 pounds, wants to emulate Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

"Hope I can see her pitch one day," Wakefield told The Associated Press. "I'm honored that someone wants to become me. I wish her the best of luck. Maybe I can learn something from her. It's funny that I've reached that point in my career that people want to emulate me. I'm glad I had people like the Niekros, Charlie Hough and Tom Candiotti that I could look up to. I am deeply humbled that it is me this time."

The right-handed Yoshida learned the pitch from her father, Isamu.

"My specialty is the knuckleball, so I really want to be able to get batters out using it," she said.

Dickey said one thing in Yoshida's favor is she probably has small hands.

"The way you grip the ball is a big thing. It hurts to have too big of hands because of the way you have to bend your fingers and use your fingernails. Gigantic hands make it difficult to throw a knuckleball," Dickey said. "If she has small hands, that's a big advantage. Good luck to her. You can throw a knuckleball as slow as 59 mph to get people out."

Whether her knuckler will be good enough to keep Yoshida's career on the rise remains to be seen.

In any event, the pioneering Yoshida has already made history.

Japan had a professional league for women in the 1950s, but it lasted just two years. The country's ban against female players was lifted in 1991, but Yoshida became the first to be drafted by a professional team.

Only one woman has ever been selected in a Major League Draft.

Then Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler selected his daughter, Carey Schueler, in the 43rd round of the 1993 First-Year Player Draft.

She was selected with the 1,208th pick overall, ahead of 16 future Major Leaguers, including Vance Wilson (44th round, Mets), Frank Menechino (45th, White Sox), Bob Howry (45th, Marlins), Dave Roberts (47th, Indians), Mario Valdez (48th, White Sox), Placido Polanco (49th, White Sox) and Jeff Harris (50th, Mariners).

Schueler did not sign with the White Sox and instead went on to play basketball at DePaul University and St. Mary's College.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.