Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

Pitcher will talk about her knuckleball and Title 9 issues on ESPN show

PLANT CITY

The world first got a glimpse of Plant City's Chelsea Baker two years ago when the then-13-year-old appeared on ESPN's E:60, spotlighting her pitching prowess against boys.

This weekend, she'll get an encore.

E:60, which premieres at 1 p.m. Saturday, will air a segment about women's sports and the effects of the 40th anniversary of Title 9, the landmark 1972 decision that opened more doors for women in sports. Rod Mason, Baker's stepfather, said the opening segment of the piece will feature Baker.

"The producer of the first time she was on ESPN called and asked us to meet him in Orlando in March," Mason said. "They talked to Chelsea about how things were going now. The interview happened in the Atlanta dugout right before the Braves and Yankees were playing a spring training game."

Baker first caught the public's eye when she began mowing down Plant City batters with a knuckleball taught to her by former major leaguer Joe Niekro.

Baker tossed a pair of perfect games in Little League, including one during an all-star game. The feat led to her jersey being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Mason said the family has had discussions with Universal Studios about a possible movie.

"Of course she gets attention because she is a girl out there playing with boys," Mason said. "But if you take gender out, she can play just like any of the boys."

Many thought as she got older — and made the move from the smaller fields of Little League to regulation-sized diamonds — Baker wouldn't be able to keep up. Not so, said Mason.

"She can run, catch, throw and hit with the boys," he said. "She's actually felt more comfortable pitching from 60 feet, 6 inches."

Baker said that because of the increased distance from pitching rubber to home — Little League distance is 45 feet — her knuckleball dances even more.

"It's actually a little easier," she said. "I think (my knuckleball) gets better movement."

Now 15, Baker is still playing with the boys. She's on the Plant City Juniors (13-14) All-Stars and plays with the Dover Bullets, a travel team.

But Baker is also playing with the girls. She was recruited for a national girls all-star team called the Sparks two years ago by Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach a men's professional baseball team. The Sparks finished 39th out of 104 boys teams at a tournament in Cooperstown.

"No girls team had even come close to finishing that well at that tournament," Mason said.

The Sparks' parents realized the rare opportunity they had, being able to field a competitive team composed solely of girls who could hang with the boys.

"Us parents knew there was something pretty special there," Mason said.

So they got together and formed the "Dream Team" and compete in tournaments around the country. The team has girls from California, Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts, New York and Florida.

"It's so much fun to get together with those girls and all play on the same field," Baker said.

The Dream Team, in search of a sponsor to help cover travel expenses, has struggled to raise funds lately, but looks to a November tournament in Sarasota. By that time, Baker will be in her sophomore year at Durant High, where she plans on trying out for the baseball team.

"A lot of people told me I would never be able to make the switch to the big fields and I should just stop playing baseball and switch to softball," Baker said. "But all that does is make me want to try harder and prove them wrong."

Baker, who throws in the low 70s, but possesses that tricky knuckler, thinks she has a pretty good shot at making the Cougars.

"Hopefully I'll keep getting better, and with hard work, I can do it."

Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Andre Dawson’s new and sometimes awkward career: funeral home owner

Andre Dawson’s new and sometimes awkward career: funeral home owner

By DAVE HYDESun Sentinel (TNS)The first time Andre Dawson drove a hearse, he turned to the woman in the casket and said, completely serious, "I'll do my best to make sure this isn't bumpy."The first time he told Hall of Fame baseball friends Tim Rain...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

By Joey JohnstonTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — Rays LHP Ryan Yarbrough deserved better Friday. But the offense didn't offer much, allowing the Orioles to escape with a 2-0 victory before an announced crowd of 11,354 at Tropicana Field."It ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

ST. PETERSBURG – In January, sure.In July, absolutely.But, now?And, once again, for someone who they hope helps in the future.The Rays made a shocking trade at a surprising time of year Friday, dealing All-Star closer Alex Colome and Tampa...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

TAMPA — Captain Steven Stamkos said the Lightning's window for contending for a Stanley Cup championship is not closing."I think it's wide open," he said Thursday, one day after the Lightning lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to the C...
Updated: 5 hours ago
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

The Rays made a major trade Friday afternoon, sending All-Star closer Alex Colome and OF Denard Span to the Mariners.The return is two minor-leaguers, RHP Andrew Moore and RHP Tommy Romero. The Rays also sent cash to the Mariners.Span, a Tampa produc...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Stand down on anthem, NFL

Stand down on anthem, NFL

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Updated: 8 hours ago
For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

By JOEY JOHNSTONTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — For openers, the Rays will use RHP Sergio Romo, the 35-year-old career reliever, as tonight's starter against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.Romo is making his third career "sta...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been generous with his time, staying after practice to work with younger players. That should be a real added benefit for first-round pick Vita Vea.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"That's my M.O.'' Mc...
Published: 05/25/18