Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pic of the Week

Chelsea Baker throws from behind the batting practice
L-screen at Tropicana Field.
Chelsea Baker is a high school junior who pitches for a high school baseball team in the Tampa, Florida, area. Baseball, not softball. According to this piece from the Tampa Bay Times, the late Joe Niekro taught her the knuckleball in her Little League days, and she's stuck with it

Baker's knuckleball grip, fingertips up
against the seams.
She met Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays manager, at some event, and he invited her to come pitch some batting practice. Which she did on Monday, throwing her knuckleball to Evan Longoria, Jose Molina and David Price. (With the Rays' reputation for looking for minor edges, I figured he lined her up for BP before a game against R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball, but that wasn't the case.)

I have no idea if Baker's flutterball is anywhere near good enough for pro ball, but I have theorized that if/when a woman plays major league baseball it will be a knuckleball pitcher, because that specific pitch might level the competition.

Men, as a rule, are stronger and faster — better athletes — than women. I have no doubt that a truly elite female athlete — Serena Williams, let us say — is faster and stronger than me, but a Serena Williams trying to play second base in the majors isn't competing against a run-of-the-mill man for playing time, but against the likes of Robinson Cano or Eric Sogard. Cano's a star, Sogard's a platoon guy, but they are both pretty elite athletes in their own right.

The knuckleball, however, is a bit less about physical abilities and a bit more about emotional stability. At risk of sounding overly mystical, the good major league knuckleballers seem to surrender to the pitch. There is athleticism involved, certainly, but at the heart of it seems to be a resignation to the unpredictability of the pitch. That aspect wouldn't seem out of reach for a woman.

Again, I don't know if Baker's the one to challenge the gender barrier, but I'm open to the possibility.

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