Female knuckleballer joins university men's baseball league
Published Wednesday, May 17, 2017 9:14AM EDT
Standing at 5’8” tall, with long, straight brown hair and a focused gaze, 19-year-old Claire Eccles is ready to play ball.
And this time, it will be with the boys.
On Tuesday, the Victoria HarbourCats announced Eccles would be pitching for the club for the 2017 West Coast League Season. The HarbourCats is part of an 11-team circuit comprised of male university players in Canada and the United States.
The talented, left-hander has baffled batters with her killer knuckleball as a member of the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbirds softball team and the Canadian women’s baseball team. She’s already made use of her impressive arm at the last two Women’s Baseball World Cups and the 2015 Pan Am Games, but those times she always played against other females.
Although Eccles is set to become the first woman to suit up in the West Coast League, she doesn’t appear to be very intimidated by the prospect.
“I haven’t thought about it that much in that way,” she told CTV Vancouver on Tuesday. “Obviously guys are probably a lot stronger than the girls that I face, but maybe I’ll get in their heads.”
Eccles said she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer. Instead, the 19-year-old pitcher from Surrey, B.C. said she plans to earn her spot among her new teammates.
“I’m here to play. I’m here to fight for the innings that I’ll pitch,” she said.
The HarbourCats general manager, Brad Norris-Jones, said gender isn’t a major concern for his team. He said they were the first club in the league to have a female general manager and now he has a female assistant general manager, Brittany French.
“I just hope that in the next five-ten years this is different, this isn’t newsworthy, it’s more the norm,” Norris-Jones said.
With her unpredictable knuckleball that flutters in and out of the strike zone, Norris-Jones said Eccles’ signature pitch will prove to others why he signed her to the team.
“If we strictly went on her velocity, I don't think she could compete at this level,” Norris-Jones told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “But her knuckleball definitely competes at this level. That's what we were very excited about.”
The young pitcher can also throw a two-seam fastball and a curve ball if she needs something other than the knuckleball.
Eccles said she hopes her success will encourage future female players in the sport.
“I want to get it out there that girls can play baseball,” she said. “Hopefully this paves the way for other girls in the future.”
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Vancouver