Claire Eccles will be the first woman to play in Canada's West Coast League

Knuckleball pitcher Claire Eccles will be the first woman to play baseball in Canada’s West Coast League. (Twitter/@ubctbirds)

Claire Eccles is young, but she already has a lengthy baseball résumé. At just 19 years old, the knuckleballer has played in two Women’s Baseball World Cups, the 2015 Pan-Am Games, and has played softball for two years for the University of British Columbia. And now she has something else to add to her ever-growing résumé.

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Eccles has been signed by the Victoria HarbourCats, making her the first woman to ever play in Canada’s West Coast League. And Eccles will be facing some tough competition this summer: the West Coast League is known for attracting top college talent from around the country.

Eccles shared her excitement about her new team with the University of British Columbia. 

“I’m very excited. Victoria is really behind this team and I’m lucky to play for such a great organization as the Harbourcats,” says Eccles. “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.”

Eccles isn’t downplaying her arsenal: her main pitch is a knuckleball and it can reach up to 76 mph. That’s not very fast, even for college hitters, but there is something that makes it effective. And the Globe and Mail discovered just what that something is while watching Eccles pitch.

“It’s dancing!” the catcher blurts out after snagging the ball that dipped sharply before returning it to Eccles.

HarbourCats GM Brad Norris-Jones certainly believes in Eccles and her dancing knuckleball. Here’s what he said in a recent interview:

“A hundred percent Claire is good enough to play on our team,” HarbourCats general manager Brad Norris-Jones told CBC before signing Eccles. “Is it going to be a challenge for Claire? Absolutely. We’re just going to get everyone involved and show that in 2017 this isn’t different, this isn’t weird. It’s normal.”

In a way, it’s admirable that he wants to normalize this. He doesn’t want anyone to think it’s weird that the team signed a woman to pitch for them, and the best way for the team and Eccles to make a statement about women playing baseball with men is for everything to proceed as normal. They want to demonstrate that she’s just a member of the team, and this isn’t a publicity stunt.

Eccles was understandably worried that Norris-Jones was just looking for the instant media fame that would come with signing a woman in a men’s league.

“I was obviously a little skeptical,” Eccles said in an interview at UBC. “You have to wonder: ‘Is this just for their own publicity?’ “Brad said I’d get fair opportunities and it’s not just for show.”

Given Eccles’ and Norris-Jones’ comments, it’s safe to say that this isn’t just for show. But it’s important to remember that what they’re doing isn’t normal, and it is different, no matter what Norris-Jones says. According to the Globe and Mail, Norris-Jones started exploring the idea of adding a female pitcher in January, and called around to get some names. To sign a female pitcher, a team has to actually want to do it, and make an effort to do it.

For her part, Eccles realizes what she’s doing is important in the grander scheme. Here’s what she said in her interview with the Victoria HarbourCats:

“I’m extremely excited to be getting the opportunity to play at such a high level of ball, and being the first female in Canada to do so,” said Eccles. “The HarbourCats seem like an amazing organization and I can’t wait to play for them. As much as this is an accomplishment for myself, I can’t help but realize that this is a step in the right direction for any girl with a dream of playing baseball. There’s a bigger picture out there.”

For female players to get a chance, teams have to give them one. Now that Claire Eccles has broken the gender barrier in the West Coast League (or will break it once she joins the HarbourCats on June 6), hopefully other teams will follow suit and give more female players a chance to succeed.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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