They live in different worlds, speak different languages and play different sports.
Yet it’s uncanny that Japan’s Eri Yoshida and Canada’s Brigette Lacquette have so much in common.
Both are 16, both are dominating male opponents and both are attracting excessive attention because of their abilities and potential.
Yoshida is blowing away batters with a remarkable sidearm knuckleball that recently landed her a professional contract in an all-male Japanese baseball league. She’s being viewed in Japan as a pioneer and a symbol of the changing status of women in her country.
Lacquette is astonishing scouts by thoroughly outplaying male opponents in the Western Manitoba AA Midget Hockey League. She is her league’s top talent. She was the youngest player at the recent World Under-18 women’s hockey championship in Germany and was chosen best defenceman.
“Several scouts have told me that, if Brigette continues in the direction she’s going, she’ll be the greatest female hockey player in Canadian history,” said Scott Taylor, sports editor of Grass Roots News, Manitoba’s Aboriginal newspaper. “She’s one of the few players I’ve seen who can do everything all game with her head up. She’s so fast that she flies by opponents. And she’s a great playmaker.”
Brigette lives in Mallard, Man. “We’re nowhere,” said her father, Terrence, a Metis who has lived in Mallard his entire life. “Our community has about 80 adults, 40 kids, 20 dogs and 15 cats.”
Still, dozens of universities — including Cornell, Providence, Minnesota and North Dakota —- have found her and are bombarding her with expressions of interest.
Brigette, though, is only 5-foot-5 and so, barring a serious growth spurt, don’t expect her to break the NHL’s sex barrier.
Yoshida, though, has a serious chance to advance to MLB. She’s only five feet but knuckleballers don’t need size or strength. They need only to fool batters. Yoshida recently left a line of nine veteran male batters hitless and baseball types think she could seriously perfect her pitch to major-league calibre.
“She can pitch,” said Yoshihiro Nakada, her manager in the Kansai Independent League. “The media attention we get from her is most welcome, but that’s not why she is on our team. She’s with us because she’s an excellent pitcher.”
Yoshida started pitching in Grade Two, after her father showed her a video of Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
“I’m honoured that she patterned herself after me,” Wakefield was quoted as saying recently. “I’ve heard great things about her. Apparently, she’s amazing. I wish her the best of luck. Maybe I can learn something from her eventually. Nothing surprises me any more, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she follows in the footsteps of other Japanese pitchers and winds up in the big leagues some day.”
“The world is progressing,” said Machiko Osawa, a professor at Japan Women’s University. “The United States has an African-American president and Eri Yoshida has been accepted in the conservative world of sports.
“These are historical times.”