Many young baseball pitchers dream of taking the mound in the majors. It’s a dream that takes a combination of intense preparation and physical talent to achieve, and even the most gifted pitchers often spend many years in baseball’s minor leagues before getting to share the field with Major League Baseball (MLB) players.
One young talent from Florida got to take the field with MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays today for the first time this week. Amazingly, this prospect is only seventeen—and she enjoyed every moment of her big break! That’s right, Chelsea Baker of Plant City, Florida, plays for Durant High School’s baseball team and threw a batting practice for the Rays on Monday night.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon recently met Baker at an awards ceremony, and immediately invited her to take the mound at Tropicana Field. Baker possesses a rare skill set for a modern pitcher—she is a knuckleballer, a pitcher whose low-spin pitches can take unpredictable turns mid-flight and, even at relatively slow speeds, confound opposing batters. Knuckleballers are a rare bird at the top levels of baseball—Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner, is the only knuckleballer currently playing in the majors.
Baker’s high school and Little League resume is an impressive one, especially for a girl passing up softball to play in boys’ baseball leagues! She once pitched five and a half years (!) with no losses, throwing two no-hitters along the way. The National Baseball Hall of Fame wanted a copy of her jersey, and Baker obliged. Maddon, who met Baker at an event honoring her as the first female player to make a varsity roster in Hillsborough County, received a signed baseball from her, before extending a batting practice invite. “I never expected anything like this to happen,” Baker said from the mound at Tropicana Field. “This is beyond belief.”
Baker threw a solid practice, though it wasn’t without a few mistakes. The Rays’ Evan Longoria, Jose Molina, and David Price hit against Baker, and though Molina swung and missed a few times, Price was able to hit a hard line drive up the middle. Baker also hit Longoria in the back with a pitch—a big no-no!—but Maddon says her knuckleball “moves nicely,” and Baker said she had a “great time” at the batting practice.
Not all of us have the luxury of a knuckleballer wunderkind to take batting practice from. The good news is, you don’t need one to work on your swing. Wheelhouse Batting Cages provides pitching machines and batting cages to suit your batting practice needs!