Spotlight: Gender and Sports

Recently, a 16-year-old high school student Eri Yoshida became the first woman to play professional baseball in Japan when she was drafted to the Kobe 9 Cruise baseball team in the Kansai Independent Baseball League. While Yoshida’s hometown of Kawasaki, Japan is a long way from Irvine, the consequences this might have for American baseball are intriguing.
Baseball has long been a popular sport in Japan, stemming back to when it was first introduced to the country in 1872. Not surprisingly, the MLB has acquired some key talent from the land of the rising sun. After all, before Hideki Okajima, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui played for the Boston Red Sox, the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees, respectively, they played for Japanese teams such as the Yomiuri Giants and the Orix Blue Wave.
As such it is not entirely impossible that Yoshida, or a player like Yoshida, could one day play for an MLB team. That being said, it is a long way off before Yoshida plays in the more established Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, let alone MLB.Still, perhaps more important than the player herself is why this happened in Japan and why it happenned in 2008.
To answer this first question, it must first be stated that the same separation of genders in this sport exists in Japan as it does in the United States. Simply put, men play baseball and women play softball. Although UC Irvine does not have a woman’s softball team, Title IX mandates gender equality in athletics at the collegiate level. Thus, an equal number of both male and female teams must exist. As a result, when a woman wants to play baseball, she can thus often be referred to play softball, which in turn keeps genders separated.
According to an article written for ESPN.com, such was the case for Yoshida, but she opted to stay with her male competition. Whether her coaches decided to allow this based on her talent or whether they were just lenient is unclear, but her ascension to professional baseball would indicate the former rather than the latter.
Why this occurred in 2008 is questionable. As the Kansai Independent Baseball League is debuting, there is the obvious answer that this is simply a publicity stunt. After all, Japan has no shortage of young, talented female baseball and softball players, as the country won a gold metal in softball at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Yoshida was not on the 2008 team and the country had similar successes winning silver and bronze metals in 2000 and 2004, respectively.
It is then somewhat perplexing that none of those more established players were drafted to professional baseball at all, let alone before Yoshida.
This in turn would thus place the reasoning for Yoshida’s draft on the actual leagues competing for dominance through publicity. If this is the lone reason for the draft, then America has a while before it produces a female major league baseball player.
At the end of the day, MLB has a stranglehold as far as professional baseball is concerned.
It is important to note that such outlets as UCI athletics offer ample opportunities for women to develop into professional athletes. Kari Pestolesi, a sophomore volleyball player at UCI, mentioned how volleyball works more to the benefits of female collegiate athletes than men.
“Gender inequality in volleyball isn’t really an issue. Women actually have more options and way more choices of schools to play at in the U.S. compared to men. There are over 230 women’s [NCAA] Division I programs and only 25 men’s programs,” Pestolesi said.
That being said, Pestolesi also pointed out that co-ed sports are fun and that there should be more of them. While gender lines are more clearly drawn in NCAA-regulated sports, UCI has some outlets for co-ed competition, including arena soccer and basketball, which are offered as co-ed intramural sports at the Anteater Recreation Center.
Whether Yoshida’s draft to professional baseball was a freak occurrence or not remains to be seen, but what cannot be denied is that baseball is a largely male-dominated sport. Yet through other athletic opportunities and progress made by women within the sport itself, gender is becoming increasingly balanced.