Two Japanese softball standouts, Eri Yamada and Kazuki Watanabe, have signed contracts to play with the Chicago Bandits and join the National Pro Fastpitch League.
The two Japanese stars represent just the second and third players from Japan to join NPF clubs. Earlier this month, the Akron Racers signed Ayumi Karino of Japan a contract.
"We're beyond thrilled with the additions of Eri and Kazuki," said Bandits general manager Aaron M. Moore. "We have been working very hard at signing these two players for several months.
"We couldn't have done this without the helping hand of (Bandits pitcher) Monica Abbott. She's been working equally as hard as our office in seeing these acquisitions go through."
Yamada won the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing when Japan defeated the U.S. for the first time since 2000, denying the Americans a chance for a fourth straight gold medal. Before the defeat, the U.S. had won 22 straight games.
Yamada, an outfielder, is nicknamed "The Female Ichiro" in Japan because her batting stance is similar to that of Ichiro Suzuki, the New York Yankees center fielder.
"She's extremely respected in the Japanese Pro League and she has some experience against some of the best pitchers in the world," Moore said.
Japan defeated the U.S. 3-1 in the sport's last appearance in the Olympics. Yamada hit .344 in the tournament while belting two home runs and driving in five for Japan. In the gold medal game, she went 2-for-3, including a solo homer off Cat Osterman.
Yamada, who currently plays for Team Hitachi, also helped Japan win the bronze medal in the 2004 Games.
Kazuki Watanabe, who currently catches for Abbott and Team Toyota in Japan, helped Team Toyota win Japan Softball League championships in 2011 and 2012. She'll compete with Kristen Butler and Jenna Grim at catcher.
"Watanabe is not only a solid defensive player, but she's also another left-handed bat for coach (Mike) Steuerwald to have in the lineup," Moore added. "This addition really will give us some depth and options this season behind the plate."
Yamada and Watanabe will join the Bandits for opening day, scheduled for June 5 against the Akron Racers at The Ballpark at Rosemont.