Part-Knuckleball Pitcher Claire Eccles Joins Male Baseball Team

The knuckleballer club is small to begin with. Even smaller is the club of female knuckleball pitchers who play competitively with and against men. We’ve talked about the young American knuckleballer Chelsea Baker (for example, here and here and here), who has impressed teammates and opponents with her knuckleball in many games where she was the only female.

Claire EcclesBut then opportunity knocked, and “the 19-year-old left-handed pitcher

received a call in November from Brad Norris-Jones, the general manager of the Victoria HarbourCats of the West Coast League, a prestigious summer league for collegiate baseball players. The league features notable alumni such as Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles and Jacoby Ellsbury of the New York Yankees, and Norris-Jones wanted to recruit women for the HarbourCats this summer….

Eccles says the week since the announcement has been a firestorm. Making time for friends has been a challenge, and on top of all of the media attention, she was miscategorized as a knuckleball pitcher, even though she uses her three pitches—a two-seam fastball, a curve ball and a knuckler—evenly.

“My knuckleball is getting a whole lot of press when I feel honestly, when I first made Team Canada … I was picked because I could throw any of my pitches at any time,” Eccles says. “That’s what makes me a great pitcher is that I can throw all of my pitches. That keeps batters on their toes.”

“I really like my knuckleball, but I feel like it’s been blown out of proportion.”

But that doesn’t mean she can’t love the attention she got from Atlanta Braves knuckler and former Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, who tweeted support for Eccles last week. Eccles, who was driving at the time, said she could not stop smiling when she heard about Dickey’s message.

Norris-Jones also really likes Eccles’s knuckleball:

Like many knuckleballers, Eccles fell into the pitch almost by accident.

“All the kids would try and throw a knuckleball,” she said. “I played around with it and it eventually turned into something I could use.”

Norris-Jones saw four scouting reports on the five-foot-eight Eccles, with her unpredictable pitch that moves in and out of the strike zone the main reason he believes she can succeed.

“If we strictly went on her velocity, I don’t think she could compete at this level,” he said. “But her knuckleball definitely competes at this level.

“That’s what we were very excited about.”

As quoted at GoThunderbirds.ca, Eccles—whose dream as a kid was to one day play in the major leagues—is confident about her prospects:

“I’m very excited. Victoria is really behind this team and I’m lucky to play for such a great organization as the HarbourCats…. I’ve been playing baseball for a long time and have been a pitcher for my entire career so when I switched to softball it just wasn’t the same.  I’m obviously not going to be the fastest pitcher in the league, but I have some good off-speed pitches that will keep hitters on their toes.”

As we’re thinking about her knuckleball, others are noting that “Eccles will be the first female to compete in the 11-team circuit that’s home to mostly men’s university players from the United States and Canada, including some who have been drafted by major league clubs. She will also be the first Canadian woman to suit up at this level.”

We’ll try not to miscategorize the extent of her reliance on the knuckleball. But it’s still pretty cool that pitcher who includes it in her inventory of three main pitches, albeit in aliquot rather than dominating proportion, will be testing her mettle with the HarbourCats this summer. And who knows? Maybe, one day, the knuckleball will become an even bigger part of Claire Eccles’s repertoire. It has happened before. Meanwhile, we’ll look forward to “some good off-speed pitches that will keep hitters on their toes.”

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