The knuckleball pitcher signed with the Victoria HarbourCats in the 11-team Canadian league
Image via Vibrant Victoria/Twitter
For women who grow up playing baseball, there eventually comes a point in their adolescence when they are nudged away from the sport toward softball. Claire Eccles has nothing against softball, she plays for the University of British Columbia, but she never wanted to leave her favorite sport behind.
So she continued doing both, staying with baseball as a knuckleball pitcher. The dedication paid off this week when the 19-year-old lefty signed with the Victoria HarbourCats, becoming the first woman to play in the West Coast League, an 11-team organization in Canada.
"I never thought I could get an opportunity like this," Eccles told ESPN. "I'm obviously not going to be the fastest pitcher in the league, but I have some good off-speed pitches that will keep hitters on their toes."
Knuckleballers use a pitch that’s less reliant on velocity, but involves throwing a ball that barely rotates, which makes its flight path unpredictable and, thus, devilish for batters to hit, as you can see in the video below.
Within the ranks of pro baseball, not many pitchers throw a knuckleball because it’s high risk. If a pitcher releases the ball incorrectly, there will be rotation—turning baseball’s most difficult pitch to hit into one of the easiest as it slowly floats to the plate for a hitter to smash. Because of the odd nature of the pitch, a community has grown around knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough, and R.A. Dickey. So it wasn’t surprising to see that Dickey was one of the first big leaguers to congratulate Eccles.
The HarbourCats’ 54-game season begins on May 30 and lasts through the summer. Eccles will compete against other college players in this development league that helps groom young prospects for a shot at the pros. “It’s really exciting,” she says. “And hopefully people will tune in and be able to see that girls also play baseball, and there will be more coverage or awareness, and then the word can spread further about girls playing baseball. I’m excited for the experience of this, and growing the game. It’s about the future.”
The Women’s National Team manager, André Lachance, concurs. “The ultimate goal is to create awareness that girls can play,” Lachance said. “Girls can compete at that level and have success, and girls can make their way to the top levels that are available. If we can accomplish that by showing how good our athletes are, we’re going to achieve our goal. We want more opportunity for girls to play baseball at the highest possible level.”