Sportress of Blogitude

‘Knuckleball Princess’ befuddles Tampa Bay Rays during batting practice (video)

Chelsea Baker, the so-called “Knuckleball Princess,” is a 17-year-old high school pitcher from Plant City, Fla. Her coach just so happens to be Joe Niekro, one-half of the major league brothers who baffled major league hitters during careers that both spanned three decades, so she has learned to master the quirky, loopy pitch from one of the best of all-time.

Baker’s master-student relationship with Niekro began when she was all of 10 years old and on Monday, Baker was brought in as a guest of Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon — who met her a week before — to pitch batting practice, and from the looks of it, did an impressive job of confounding Rays batters — including Evan Longoria, Jose Molina and pitcher David Price. — on a number of occasions by tossing up herky-jerky, dipsy-do tosses that are the trademark of the goofy knuckleball.

Baker said she was “definitely intimidated” at facing Longoria, but all in all, insisted she had a blast.

“But it was a lot of fun, I had a great time,” Baker said. “I’ve done a bunch of things, but this is beyond anything I’ve ever imagined. It was a great opportunity.”

“She was outstanding,” Maddon said, via “… She has a really good arm stroke. She has a really good knuckleball. It actually moves nicely. She knows what she’s doing. She has very good composure. She’s a bright young lady. … Pretty impressive.”

The Rays completely stumbled out of the gate and have been in a downward spiral as the season has progressed. Maddon is known for his off-the-wall methods, but is it the wisest decision to have a team that is struggling at the plate — Tampa Bay is 27th in the league with a .246 team batting average — get emasculated by a teenaged girl during batting practice? That crazy Maddon. Always up to something, that guy.