The Future of Olympic Baseball

John Ourand

Like war heroes, face paint stains the features of the American fans. The familiar “USA” chant surrounds the ballpark. The opposing team from abroad is blinded by the patriotic red, white, and blue.

Only there’s no paint. The ballpark is silent, and has been empty since 2005.

But the joy could return. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gets set to vote to add baseball to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

“I’m guessing that baseball will be back in, and I think that baseball should be back in,” said ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian.

The vote will take place this August, before the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro begin.

If the IOC votes to add baseball to the 2020 Games the question still remains, how much will the sport appeal to America? With baseball being a new Olympic sport, many people don’t see it as one of the main events. Sports such as basketball, athletics, and swimming, are all traditional Olympic sports Americans have been cheering on for years. It might be difficult for baseball to find its place.

“I think that the United States would pull for the US team to win the Olympic gold medal in baseball,” said Kurkjian. “But I think they would pull harder for the basketball team… Michael Phelps… an American to win the 100 meter dash, I just think those are more Olympic sports than baseball.”

In hockey, the NHL shuts the league down for a few weeks every Olympic year to create the best possible team. In basketball, the team is made up of well-known stars, players who want to be on the team. But in baseball, the MLB makes no exceptions during Olympic years, making it so major leaguers are unable to play.

“It’s a daily game,” said Kurkjian. “If you interrupted the major league season… I think that would be a mistake.”

Leaving major leaguers at home might not be such a bad thing. Baseball athletes already play 162 games, and they’d rather stay at home with the teams who pay them millions of dollars. Sending over a team whose main priority isn’t to win wouldn’t help when America has college athletes and minor leaguers who would play their heart out if given the opportunity.

“But baseball season’s so long the way it is,” the Chicago Cubs all-star Kris Bryant told Michigan Live. “I don’t know if it would be the best decision for ourselves and our bodies.”

Kurkjian also said he should, “Have no problem playing only collegiate kids.”

Riccardo Fraccari, the president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), led a group of delegates to Tokyo to apply for involvement in the 2020 Olympic Games which will be played in the city.

“[We] will remain steadfastly committed to baseball’s reinstatement to the Olympic program,” Fraccari said in a press release. “I am convinced that we can overcome our current predicament and achieve our goal of bringing baseball back to the Olympics.”

The IOC also made a press release saying what will happen. It stated they will propose a package consisting of 5 sports, one of which is baseball/softball. It also shows the executive board’s support of the proposal to add the package.

“[Baseball] offer[s] a key focus on youth, which is at the heart of the Games vision for Tokyo 2020,” stated an IOC press release. “The package promotes gender equality … while also focusing on innovative and exciting sports for Japan and the wider international community.”

After years of being an exhibition sport in the Olympics, to becoming a demonstration sport in 1984 and 1988, baseball officially became a full metal sport in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain. It was set up in an eight-team tournament style series, where every team plays each other.  This went on for five years, until the IOC decided to drop baseball from the program.

Baseball was taken out of the Olympic Games in 2005, but a number of events since 1992 spurred the decision. In the early 2000’s, when baseball was still a relatively new Olympic sport, the IOC decided to cap how many sports will compete in the summer Olympics at 28.

Baseball also didn’t appeal to the whole world. While it was popular in North America, South America, and East Asia, the IOC was looking for newer and more appealing sports such as gymnastics and synchronized swimming.

After decades of struggle, the future seems to be heading in the right direction for Olympic baseball. “I want baseball in the Olympics.” Tim Kurkjian, with millions of Americans, now anxiously waits for the IOC’s decision which will impact the future of baseball in the world.

Now it is the bottom of the ninth inning in Tokyo, Japan. With two outs the IOC steps up to the plate. This is their last chance. Will they strike out, or smash baseball back home?

-John Ourand (ourandj@gonzaga.org)

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