Rich Lam/UBC Athletics photo Claire Eccles poses for a photo with a young fan during her time with the Victoria HarbourCats last summer.

HarbourCats’ Claire Eccles returns to baseball – with bobblehead

Surrey pitcher to play in West Coast League a year after becoming first woman in league

A year removed from breaking new ground in baseball with the Victoria HarbourCats, South Surrey pitcher Claire Eccles hopes to inspire a similar movement among women in the construction and trades industry.

Last summer, the 20-year-old trailblazer was thrust into the spotlight when she became the first female player in the history of the West Coast League, a Pacific Northwest-based summer league for university baseball players. Her story grabbed plenty of media attention – from Black Press Media to Sports Illustrated and ESPN – and she recently announced she would return to the Vancouver Island squad for a second and final year.

On June 10, when the HarbourCats are set to host the Coquitlam Angels, Eccles – who also plays softball with the UBC Thunderbirds – will be honoured with her very own bobblehead, thanks to a promotion between the team and the Vancouver Island Construction Association, which is encouraging women to join the industry which, like baseball, has historically been male-dominated.

“It’s super cool. I never thought I’d get my own bobblehead – I don’t think many people probably think they will,” she told Peace Arch News.

“It’s for a good cause though – a good reason. I’m the only girl playing in this league, and they’re trying to get more women into construction, so there’s that connection.”

To further play up that connection, Eccles’ bobblehead features her wearing a hard hat instead of a baseball cap, and instead of holding a baseball, she’s holding a hammer.

She hasn’t yet received a bobblehead for herself, and in fact said she didn’t even know what it would look like until the HarbourCats posted photos on Twitter last month.

“I don’t know how much it looks like me, but that’s OK. It’s pretty cool,” she said.

Eccles said last year’s media attention came right out of left field – “I was so surprised by it all,” she said – but expects to be better prepared this season. However, if the media attention continues, “that’s OK, too. I’m more used to it now.”

Since joining the WCL, Eccles said she’s received numerous messages from parents of baseball-playing daughters, as well as from young girls themselves, all of whom point to Eccles as an inspiration for young female athletes.

“I got quite a few messages – way more than I expected. People have reached out to me to say that their daughter plays baseball and wants to stick with the sport because they see me still playing… and I know of a couple girls who actually joined baseball because they heard my story, so that’s pretty cool,” she said.

“I think it just gives them a little more inspiration.”

Last year, Eccles saw action in eight games for Victoria, striking out three while walking seven. Her signature pitch is a curveball, which she’s still managed to hone despite her softball responsibilities with UBC.

The Thunderbirds’ season wrapped up recently after a playoff loss to Eastern Oregon University. However, the T-Birds won two playoff games, which was a first in the nine-year history of the program. Eccles, an alumna of the White Rock Renegades, plays outfield for the team, and will return for her senior season in the fall.

“It’s unfortunate we ended up losing to Eastern Oregon – I thought we had it – but unfortunately they came back and won,” she explained.

“That’s probably one of the best teams I’ve ever played on, and the girls were great – I’m going to miss that team.”

With the softball season over, Eccles said she is off to Japan on a family vacation, but will join the HarbourCats in time for their second homestand of the WCL season, on June 5. The season runs until mid-August, though Eccles will miss a game or two due to her commitments with the Canadian national women’s baseball team.

In July, she’ll head to Montreal for senior women’s nationals, and from there, the Canadian team will be selected. Should Eccles make that team, she’ll head to Florida in mid-August for training, followed by the Women’s Baseball World Cup.

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