The pitcher will be on Team USA's roster for the Women's World Cup of Baseball later this month, and she wants to be part of a movement to challenge the notion that girls should only play softball.
It’s gotta be the accent. That’s what Emily Tsujikawa thinks when she overhears her Hungarian mother tell someone her daughter plays baseball only to be corrected.
“You mean softball,” Tsujikawa recalled a woman telling her mother recently. “They think she’s confused.”
There’s no confusion for Tsujikawa. The Redmond senior has loved baseball since she was a toddler. She’s believed to be the only girl to have played for the school, serving as a starting right-handed pitcher for the junior-varsity team the past two years, and she’ll be vying for a spot on the varsity roster next spring.
But first she’ll compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Women’s Baseball World Cup in Viera, Fla., Aug. 22-31. Tsujikawa is one of two high schoolers named to USA Baseball’s 20-member women’s national team in June.
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The organization invited her to compete for a spot after participating in the 2017 women’s national team development program. On the Team USA roster, 14 are alumni, including 11 who helped win gold at the 2015 Pan American Games.
Team USA won back-to-back Women’s Baseball World Cup titles in 2004 and 2006, but Japan has won the last five.
“Emily showed a lot of upside as far as understanding pitching and the game’s little nuances,” said Matt Weagle, a former minor-league pitcher who’ll manage Team USA. “She doesn’t show any fear, and I will have no issue getting her right into World Cup play. Right now, I see her as a reliever, but I feel confident putting her on the mound in a lot of different situations. We’re excited to have her.”
Emily and twin sister Lindsay followed their eldest sibling Amanda into baseball. The twins were fierce, ponytailed pitchers on boys Little League teams. But when pressured — as all girls are who show talent in youth baseball — to switch to softball because that’s the girl’s sport, Lindsay made the change as a freshman while Emily resisted.
Emily has watched her twin become a solid infielder who helped the Mustangs win the 2017 Class 3A softball state championship. Lindsay batted .475 with 21 RBI and three home runs during Redmond’s run to a fourth-place finish at state in May.
“At first, when she switched to softball, I was like ‘Yes! I get to be the star,’ ” said Tsujikawa, who spends summers pitching for the Redmond Rippers Baseball Club. “But then I was heartbroken; still am because I lost my throwing partner and best friend on the team. And I was conflicted when I was younger because I knew with softball there more likely could be a career for me in college.
“But I just love pitching baseball-wise that I can’t give it up. I’ve never actually played softball.”
Tsujikawa considers herself fortunate Redmond is mostly supportive of her playing alongside the boys.
Rippers coach Ryan Beliel said his team plays with more energy when Tsujikawa is on the mound.
She’s overcome foot injury to pitch 452/3 innings for a 3.99 ERA and 20 strikeouts as of July. She throws in the upper-70s.
“She’s got a better breaking ball than a lot of the boys that play,” said longtime Redmond coach Pat Frable, who heads the Mustangs junior-varsity team. “One thing you can always count on is she doesn’t walk people.
She’s got great control of her breaking ball and fastball. And plays with a lot of moxie.”
Tsujikawa said being one of the initial 100 competitors during a weeklong national team tryout in North Carolina in June was a dream. She spent a week thinking only about baseball around athletes who share her bigger mission.
Justine Siegal, who made news in 2015 when hired by the Oakland A’s as the first woman to coach a MLB team, is Tsujikawa’s athletic role-model. She believes there should be more opportunities for girls and women to play, which Tsujikawa, like Siegal, says is a sport where gender shouldn’t be considered.
Softball isn’t the girl’s counter to baseball despite perception. The ball, field, and strategies to winning are different. That’s why Tsujikawa has never played softball.
Women have been playing baseball since the game began. The African American Dolly Vardens of Philadelphia was the first professional team in 1867, according to USA Baseball’s website.
Philip Wrigley, then-owner of the Chicago Cubs, is credited as starting the first pro women’s league stateside, however black women weren’t permitted to play in his All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). They instead played in the Negro Leagues.
The AAGPBL operated from 1943-1954 and there wouldn’t be another attempt at a pro women’s league in the U.S. until the 1990s. But the Ladies League Baseball formed by Mike Ribant, a San Diego businessman, folded in its second season in 1998 due to poor attendance.
“The biggest thing for this sport is getting notoriety,” Weagle said. “And being able to see it. Once the women are seen on a television, baseball purist will fall in love with it. Because I fell into that category (of ignorance) as a male baseball player, I didn’t realize what I was walking into. I thought I was going to see women strikeout and not be able to hit the ball out of the infield. I was taken aback and shame on me. They’re tremendous athletes and tremendous ballplayers.”
Baseball is where Tsujikawa shines. And if you want to know her dedication, just follow the banana peels. After every game she scarfs down at least two despite being repulsed by the texture and taste. It’s the fruit’s high potassium content Tsujikawa seeks.
And if you want to know the depth of Tsujikawa’s passion for the sport, remember there’s no lucrative future for girls or women to play baseball in America, yet Tsujikawa spends off days running and training like boys vying for college scholarships.
“That’s why I do this,” she said of knowing high-school and amateur teams are likely her only chances to play. “I hope, if not for my generation, maybe for future generations there may be a women’s team. I mostly want to normalize girls playing baseball. That way other girls can get an opportunity to play the sport I like as well.”
A reflection of what-if-I-played-softball is across the dinner table nearly every night. And Lindsay will be part of the entourage traveling to Florida to watch Emily in the Women’s Baseball World Cup.
But there’s no regret.
“Girls in other states aren’t even allowed to tryout,” Tsujikawa said. “If you can help a team progress, I see no reason why you shouldn’t play.”