A story straight out of Hollywood

Scene: Interior of Hollywood producer’s office. A loud beep comes from his desk.

Hollywood producer: Yes?

Secretary: The next struggling young screenwriter is here to see you, sir.

HP: Send him in.

The door opens, and a young man in slightly wrinkled suit clothes enters. His eyes are a little red, and he has noticeable bags under his eyes.

Struggling young writer: Hello, sir. Thank you for seeing me.

HP: Always happy to help a struggling young writer such as yourself. We’re always looking for the next blockbuster idea.

SYW: I think I might have a couple, sir. They’re sports movies.

HP: Hmmm. Not the first thing I want to hear, but I’ll give you a chance. Let’s hear the first one.

SYW: (a little nervously) All right. Here we go. Picture the most storied franchise in baseball, with one of the top players in the franchise’s long history replete with Hall of Famers….

HP: Wait, the hero plays for the superstar squad? That doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t the story be about the underdogs, overcoming adversity and overwhelming odds to knock off the No. 1 team?

SYW: But that’s what makes this story different. The team might not be liked by everybody, but the hero is almost universally respected. And he’s closing in on a milestone of 3,000 hits, which no one else in the history of the franchise has ever reached —

HP: What? No one in the history of the franchise has ever gotten 3,000 hits? Is this a fantasy story? Sci-fi?

SYW: No, seriously. But the player is on the downside of his career. His skills are starting to diminish, he’s not hitting the way he always has. The manager is still hitting him leadoff out of respect, but people are saying he should be dropped in the lineup or replaced. Then he gets hurt just a few hits shy and has to go on the DL, building the suspense further.

HP: (flipping through the story SYW has brought) Suspense? Everyone knows he’s gonna get it. The injury’s minor, and it certainly doesn’t threaten his career. All it does is drag it out longer and make it more excruciating for everyone.

SYW: Let me finish. He comes off the DL, and his first few hits are mostly little nubbers, nothing to prove he’s still got much left in the tank. Then just two hits shy of 3,000, he leads off an afternoon game with a single and then, in his second at-bat, golfs a 3-2 pitch into the stands for a home run and his 3,000th hit. He finishes the game 5-for-5, the last hit being a game-winning single in the bottom of the eighth.

HP: (staring at SYW) … Uh-huh. … Look, kid, nobody’s gonna buy this crap. And sports movies often don’t do well across the board, especially internationally. So let’s just —

SYW: Wait! My second story is about soccer, the most popular sport in the world!

HP: Well, that would almost guarantee a bomb stateside, but could really help the worldwide numbers where we make most of our money anyway. OK, kid. One more chance. Let’s hear it.

SYW: OK. It’s the Women’s World Cup —

HP: WHAT?!? Stop right there. Women? C’mon, kid, there’s only one “Bend It Like Beckham.” And we’ve already been pitched the story about the 1999 U.S. women’s team winning the cup on home soil with the penalty kicks and the chick ripping her shirt off after scoring the winning goal. Can you beat that?

SYW: Maybe. It’s not the final, though. It’s just the quarterfinal.

HP: Now that’s just a blatant ripoff of the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team.

SYW: No, this isn’t a rag-tag group of kids who aren’t expected to win. This team might be the best in the tournament.

HP: Another favorite??

SYW: Hear me out. The women lose their last pool play match in ugly fashion, forcing them to play their arch-rival in the quarterfinal just to reach the final four. A team they lost to in the last Cup, 4-0.

HP: Sounds like hockey again….

SYW: Anyway, the team grabs an early lead, but the officiating seems to be going against them and they can’t build on their 1-0 lead. Then the rivals are awarded a penalty kick for a takedown in the box, with the offender being sent off with a red card. Now it’s 10-on-11 the rest of the way.

The goalkeeper makes an amazing save on the penalty kick, but the refs make a controversial call to give the rivals another chance at the penalty kick which they make. Now it’s tied with our heroes down a player. They make it to overtime, but give up a goal at the beginning of overtime, and now it’s even harder for the heroes to come back.

HP: Go on, go on….

SYW: Somehow the heroes keep coming, even as everything seems to be going against them. The rivals are stalling, faking injuries, doing everything they can to run out the clock and turn the audience against them. But that only adds extra stoppage time at the end of the second overtime, and the heroes use those couple of extra minutes to score a miracle goal and force penalty kicks, which they win with another amazing save by their keeper.

HP: … Look, kid, I like you. But the only reason people bought a story like “Miracle” is because they’ve seen video of that game from 1980 ever since.

The soccer team is down a player, and they win? … Nah, something like that could never happen. Come back when you’ve got stories that are a little more believable.

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Ladies room

The latest Japanese import into U.S. professional baseball isn’t who you might expect — in a lot of ways.

The fact that this righty is an 18-year-old sidearm knuckleballer that watched video of Tim Wakefield to learn to throw the confounding specialty pitch could be interesting enough — if the pitcher wasn’t a 5-foot-1, 114-pound girl.

18-year-old knuckleballer Eri Yoshida will play for the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. Their season begins Friday.

Eri Yoshida has been reported to be the first female to attempt to play professionally in this country since lefthander Ila Borders retired in 2000 after signing with the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League. But in fact she wasn’t the first female baseball player to sign an American professional contract this century, or even this year.

Spokane, Washington’s Tiffany Brooks signed a deal with the Big Bend Cowboys (Alpine, Texas) of the Continental Baseball League March 4 as a pitcher and first baseman.

She asked for her release May 8 because she was behind other players at her positions and unlikely to see much if any playing time. The latest seems to be that she’s trying to catch on with a team in another independent league.

While there was a press release regarding Brooks’ signing, it got almost no national recognition versus that of Yoshida, who was Japan’s first female professional last year at 17 when she threw for the Kobe Cruise 9 of the independent Kansai League.

Yoshida’s link with Wakefield, whom she got to meet and work with briefly at spring training, may have something to do with why her story got more digital ink. There are similarities between the pair, however; the biggest was that both played in the 2010 Arizona Winter League, an instructional league affiliated with the Golden Baseball League, earlier this year.

Both pitched during the league’s 21-game season, and Yoshida collected her first professional win with four shutout innings Feb. 12. Brooks also hit, but didn’t see a lot of success in either activity.

Team W L ERA G GS IP H BB K
Eri Yoshida YUMA 1 1 4.79 10 4 19 27 6 4
Tiffany Brooks WCAN 0 1 18.39 3 1 5.1 12 7 0
G AVG AB R H 2B RBI BB K
Tiffany Brooks WCAN 13 .185 27 3 5 1 3 3 9

Brooks is very different from Yoshida in that she stands 6 feet tall, just turned 33 years old and has played for years for women’s professional teams and in men’s tournaments. On one baseball networking Website, she says her fastball has been clocked at 82 and says she aspires to be a Jamie Moyer-like pitcher. By contrast, Yoshida’s sidearm delivery apparently tops out in the 50s.

Tiffany Brooks, 33, signed to pitch and play first base for the Big Bend Cowboys of the Continental Baseball League but never did.

Maybe Brooks’ age, and the subsequent unlikeliness that she could translate an opportunity into a chance with a Minor League Baseball team and eventually a shot at the majors no matter how well she plays, could be why her story has been somewhat ignored. Yoshida being 15 years younger seems to make her future far more intriguing.

Just how intriguing remains to be seen; after all, no woman has ever pitched in the major leagues. Jackie Mitchell fanned Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig pitching for the Chattanooga Lookouts in an exhibition game with the Yankees in 1931, but famed progressive commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract some 20 years before baseball would officially ban the signing of women.

A trio of women played in the Negro Leagues, but since Mitchell no woman has ever pitched for an affiliated minor league team. Carey Schueler, daughter of Chicago White Sox GM Ron Schueler, was drafted in the 43rd round by the Sox in 1993 in what many considered a joke or publicity stunt, a year after MLB’s ban on signing women was lifted. She was an 18-year-old basketball player at the time, and went on to play hoops at DePaul and St. Mary’s (Calif.) instead of signing.

What is this history lesson all about? I think Yoshida’s road will be hard, partly because there will be some who will not accept her but moreso because she’ll need pretty amazing command of a 50-something mile-per-hour pitch to find repeated, long-term success with it. She did pitch two scoreless innings Tuesday against a semi-pro team with no strikeouts, and the Outlaws’ season begins today in Tijuana, Mexico.

But I do believe that the culture surrounding major sports in the U.S. has not progressed far enough to enable her to avoid ridicule, comtempt and hatred from some quarters. I see it quite often covering high school sports, and know that it could get worse at higher levels. At lower levels, girls might have to fight to get the same opportunities to hone their craft if it doesn’t involve a bigger ball that comes in day-glo colors.

The rate at which progress has been made in this area makes me think that Yoshida will never get beyond the stage of being a publicity stunt for independent teams struggling to find an audience. Whether it disillusions her and forces her to quit or go back to Japan even sooner I can’t say.

What I can say is that, based on the current level of talent out there, a woman could very well play professional affiliated baseball someday. It just probably won’t be any time soon.