Koshien ace pitcher competes for women’s baseball in Japan

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During her young career as a standout pitcher, Ayuri Shimano has tried to make big strides for women baseball players in Japan.

Now she is becoming a giant herself.

Shimano, 17, was selected as one of the first members of an all-female amateur club formed by the professional baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants.

“I appreciate that the team took a step in a new direction,” she said. “This is welcome news for women’s baseball.”

Pitcher Ayuri Shimano and catcher Hazuki Ando embrace after their Kobe Koryo Gakuen high school won the women’s high school national baseball championship August 23 at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Giants announced on December 8 that the women’s team will begin playing in 2023 and named their first four members, including Shimano.

It was the third among Nippon Professional Baseball’s 12 teams to form a women’s club, after the Seibu Lions and the Hanshin Tigers.

Shimano, a right-hander who throws a fastball at 75 mph, led her Kobe Koryo Gakuen High School to victory at the 25th National High School Women’s Baseball Championship last summer.

Her school defeated Kochi Chuo High School 4-0 in the finals on August 23, played for the first time in history at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

Shimano, who is originally from Osaka, started playing baseball while she was in elementary school after her two older brothers competed in the prestigious National High School Baseball Championship, held annually in Koshien.

While boys can dream of competing in Koshien, NPB, and even Major League Baseball, few junior and senior high schools in Japan have baseball clubs for female students.

As a junior high school student, Shimano became her baseball club‘s ace pitcher, outperforming her male teammates and helping her team win a national contest.

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Ayuri Shimano throws a pitch August 1 during the women’s national high school baseball championship in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

She was inundated with requests for interviews and appearances on television shows. Though she dislikes speaking in public, she accepted as many offers as she could between classes in hopes of “bringing women’s baseball into the mainstream.”

Shimano, who will graduate high school in March, was determined to pursue women’s baseball as she considered her career path.

“When I was a sixth grader in elementary school, I couldn’t see a future in baseball. I was considering switching to softball,” she said. “I want to help create a way for girls in similar situations to continue playing baseball just like boys do.”

Her hope is to help develop the sport by showing her skills for the Giants, one of NPB’s most dominant teams.

“I will don my uniform while also bearing the great responsibility that women’s baseball should have for me,” Shimano said.

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