Person of the Week: Chelsea Baker Takes Little League by Storm

Chelsea Baker is one of the best pitchers in Little League.

July 23, 2010— -- Chelsea Baker didn't want to wear diamonds -- she wanted to rule them.

"[My mom] thought I was going to be like a girl that's always in beauty pageants and stuff," Baker said.

"She told me at age 5 she would do one," said Missy Baker Mason, Chelsea's mother. "She did pretty good. I thought she was the most beautiful, but she didn't win."

Baker was more concerned with winning on a field than on a stage, turning to T-ball soon after. Now, at age 13, she has established herself as one of the best Little League pitchers in the country.

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"A lot of kids, when they see a girl on the mound or me, they always say, 'Hey, look it's a girl,' and they try so hard that they miss the ball every time," Baker said.

The Plant City, Fla., native has not lost a single sanctioned Little League game in four years. And in the past two seasons, she has pitched two perfect games, one of which was an all-star game.

This year, Baker posted a 12-0 record, striking out more than 120 batters over 60 innings.

"She got me on the two fastballs, and I didn't know she had a knuckle-curve and then the knuckle came in and it was just so dirty," said an opponent. "I didn't know what to say."

With her fastball coming in at about 65 miles per hour, opponents see Baker as "unhittable." She's also been known to make some of them cry with her unbelievable knuckleball.

"Oh, I struck him out," said Baker, referring to a distraught player leaving the diamond.

A Mentor to Remember

Her secret weapon was not easy to learn. It took two years, and a very special coach, to learn the hardest pitch in baseball.

After joining the Plant City Patriots, an all-star traveling team, in 2005, Baker became friends with a fellow player named J.J. and his legendary father, Joe Niekro. The former Major League knuckleballer took the pint-sized pitcher under his wing and began coaching her.

"Every batting practice, he'd throw that pitch and I [would] always ask him to teach me how to throw it," Baker said. "And he'd always say it's a secret. But finally one day, he taught it to me and I learned it."

Eventually, she would use the technique for every game, with Niekro handing her the ball under the condition that she kiss him on the cheek before heading to the mound.

"I looked up to Coach Joe a lot," Baker said. "I knew that Coach Joe loved me and thought I was special."

But just months after the 2006 Little League baseball season ended, Coach Joe died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 61.

His star player decided to pay tribute to her friend and mentor by writing a letter thanking him for teaching her "how to have pride in myself and how to be humble." She even left him a parting gift in his coffin: a ball.

"We knew that she was going to miss him," said Rod Mason, Baker's stepfather. "We didn't realize at that time what a big part of his life she was going to become."

'Baseball Is Her Deal'

Four years later, Baker has dominated play and has mastered the elusive knuckleball, always giving credit to the man who taught her.

But her presence on the field still has people talking. Baker admitted that most of the negative comments she hears come from parents who say she will never be able to "stay with the boys."

But the truth is that she's been beating them all along.

"She just loves the game," Mason said. "She tried softball. She doesn't like it. So, baseball is her deal."

Now, Baker has put herself in a league of her own.

"I think I'm breaking barriers because I'm doing a new thing that not many people have done," Baker said. "I really want to prove people wrong, because it will probably change the world."

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