Hall of Fame honors Chelsea Baker

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- A 13-year-old girl knuckleball pitcher who has thrown two perfect games against Little League boys teams was honored Monday by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Chelsea Baker of Plant City, Fla., donated the Brandon Farms jersey she wore in her April 9 perfect game to the Hall of Fame as an artifact noting the importance of women playing baseball. Her jersey joins one in the hall worn by another young female knuckleballer, Eri Yoshida, 18, whose play in the pro Golden Baseball League also earned her the honor this year.

Baker's jersey will be on display in the Today's Game exhibit before moving eventually to the Diamond Dreams exhibit for the rest of the year.

"There are no words to describe how happy I was when I found out they wanted to put my jersey in the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Baker, the subject of an ESPN E:60 feature story last month.

The museum accepts about 400 artifacts a year from all levels of baseball, including the major leagues. Another female little leaguer, Katie Brownell, donated her jersey to the hall after she threw a perfect game in 2005.

"When you look at women in baseball, we thought this was a significant enough contribution that needed to be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, of Baker's perfect games. "This is a young girl from Plant City, Fla., who under the counsel of a great major leaguer Joe Niekro, was able to learn a knuckleball and then she was able to take that knowledge and apply it.

"She had two perfect games, she showed you don't have to be a male to compete successfully, and she holds a flag for all girls in this country that, yeah you can be a girl and succeed in baseball."

Baker pitched her first perfect game during an All-Star Game last year. She predicted she'd throw the second one just before she did so this year. She learned how to pitch the knuckleball from Niekro, who perfected it during a long pro career.

"I think Coach Joe would be so proud of me and happy that his knuckleball got me this far," Baker said. "I wish he was here today to share this moment with me."

Baker finished the 2010 season with an unblemished record, the fourth straight year with no losses. This month, she was awarded the key to her hometown and threw out the first pitch for the New York Yankees minor league affiliate, the Tampa Yankees. Her family has received multiple movie pitches to tell her story.

Baker's Little League team lost in the sectional round of the Little League World Series, so for now, she is playing with an all-girls team, the Sparks. She was scheduled pitch Monday night at Dreams Park.

The honor of being affiliated with the National Hall of Fame is not lost on Baker: "All I could think about is all the professional players, like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, and me being next to them in the Hall of Fame is amazing."

Ben Houser is a senior producer for E:60.