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Japanese ball players find game isn't like back home

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Tucson Toros baseball

Japanese ball players find game isn't like back home

Toros could face female knuckleballer

  • Yoshitaka Nishi (left) and Sho Kinishi were drafted in successive rounds, the fourth and fifth, by the Tucson Toros after playing in the Arizona Winter League.
    Kim Hartman/TucsonSentinel.comYoshitaka Nishi (left) and Sho Kinishi were drafted in successive rounds, the fourth and fifth, by the Tucson Toros after playing in the Arizona Winter League.

Just five days before the team’s home opener, Tucson Toros outfielder Sho Kinishi was picked up from the airport to make his way into Tucson to play American professional baseball for the first time.

Kinishi used the week before the home opener to prepare for his new season as a player in North America.

“I’ve really been getting better this past week at camp,” Kinishi said. “I’ve been taught a lot, and the practices give me what I need.”

Kinishi was drafted in the fourth round and Toros teammate Yoshitaka Nishi was drafted in the next round. Both players had caught the eyes of the Toros with their play in the Arizona Winter League, which is an off-season instructional league that is connected with Golden Baseball League.

Nishi posted a 2.28 earned run average playing for the Western Canada Miners. Kinishi finished his time in the league with a .432 average for the San Diego Surf Dogs.

For both, playing American baseball is a change from Japan.

“American baseball training is different from the Japanese-style training,” Kinishi said. “In Japan, it’s practice, practice, practice all the time. In America, you practice but then you have free time to practice on your own.”

For Kinishi, the “free time” is not actually free time, but not having constant team practices allows him more time to work with the coaches to hone in on his own specific skills.

As part of the transition into playing American baseball, Kinishi has benefited more from the individualized attention given to the players. 

“It’s very important that players have that time to focus on what they need to improve,” Kinishi said. “For that reason, I think baseball (training) in America is better than in Japan.”

In terms of his abilities, the power-hitting Kinishi said he hopes to improve his speed this season to become more multi-dimensional, something that major league clubs look for in potential prospects.

Kinishi grounded out to the left side of the infield in his first at bat on the Toros' opening day.

“It was really exciting,” Kinishi said about the opportunity.

Toros could see female knuckleballer this year

Eri Yoshida stands at 5-feet-1-inch tall.

But the Toros see only big things from the 18-year-old pitcher, who signed a contract with the Chico Outlaws on April 8. 

The Toros are scheduled to play their first game against the Outlaws on June 8, when the team might have an opportunity to face the teen sensation.

“Every time I saw her, she was outstanding,” Toros manager Tim Johnson said. “(Yoshida) is something else, she’s really special. Facing her is going to be fun, because she’s aggressive. She goes after the hitters with her knuckleball and has no fear.”

Yoshida becomes the first female in American professional baseball since 1997, when Ila Borders pitched for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. 

The Outlaws scouted Yoshida during the 2010 Arizona Winter League season, when she tallied a 4.79 ERA with a record of 1-1 in 10 games for the Yuma Scorpions.

The Outlaws offered her a contract at the end of February.

Last week she pitched two hitless and scoreless innings against a local semi-pro team in an exhibition game.

Her GBL debut is set for Saturday, when the Outlaws faceoff against the Tijuana Potros.

“Yoshida is a really good pitcher,” Kinishi said. “I think it’s great that she’s getting out there and trying. I would like the chance to face her.”

Yoshida began playing baseball in second grade, and at the age of 16, she became the first female to be drafted by a Japanese pro baseball team, the Kobe 9 Cruise.

She taught herself the knuckleball after seeing the Boston Red Sox’s Tim Wakefield throw it.

Wakefield and Yoshida had a pitching session together at the Red Sox’s spring training facility in March.

In addition to Yoshida’s knuckleball, which is clocked at 50 mph, she also has a fastball and slider in her repertoire.

How do the Toros prepare for facing a knuckleballer like her?

“You don’t,” Johnson laughed. “I learned that during my time in Boston with Wakefield. You can’t prepare for it – you just have to hope that the ball doesn’t float too much, and you can hit it.”

Up next

The Tucson Toros end their seven game season-opening homestand on Tuesday night vs. the Calgary Vipers. Starting Thursday, the Toros will face the Yuma Scorpions and return home on June 1.

  • Tuesday: Calgary Vipers @ Tucson Toros, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday: Off Day
  • Thursday-Monday: Tucson Toros @ Yuma Scorpions
  • June 1-June 3: Vancouver Seals @ Tucson Toros, all games at 7 p.m.

All games are at Hi Corbett Field, 700 S. Randolph Way. Tickets can be purchased at box office or online at

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