At the Olympics, softball is making a comeback

When the first pitch was thrown in a game between Australia and Japan on Wednesday morning, softball fans around the world celebrated their sport’s return to the Olympic stage after a 13-year absence.

“We ARE back… SOFTBALL is back at the Olympic Games! Natasha Watley, two-time US Olympic softball player and 2004 gold medalist, tweeted before the match. “I’ll be glued to the TV for next week!”

Japan’s game against Australia was the first game before the Opening Ceremony and one of many softball and football games scheduled before the official start. It started at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, with a game between the United States and Italy scheduled to follow at 11 p.m. and one between Mexico and Canada scheduled for 2 a.m. ET on Wednesday.

The matches will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (The games will take place on Wednesday but will appear on U.S. TV starting Tuesday night due to the 1 hour time difference.)

Among those watching were former US pitcher and Olympic gold and silver medalist Jennie Finch and her 8-year-old daughter Paisley. It was the first time that his daughter, who also plays softball, would see her sport represented on the biggest stage in the world.

“I’m so excited for our sport and our game and the platform that it has to be back at the Olympics,” Finch said ahead of the game, adding that she was “excited for the athletes in particular”.

Softball first became an Olympic sport in 1996, and appeared at every Summer Games until the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, after which it was discontinued.

“To get that removed, it was like, how do we go back 60 years?” Finch remembers thinking back then. “We have worked so hard to bring our sport to where it is.”

But starting from the Tokyo Games, each Olympic host can propose to add national sports. Softball, as well as baseball, both popular in Japan, have been approved for competition in Tokyo.

The US team, which won three consecutive Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 and a silver medal at the 2008 Games after being defeated by Japan, will make its fifth Olympic appearance in Tokyo. Cat Osterman, who was on the last two American teams, is on this year’s roster at 38.

Yet there was some dissatisfaction on social networks that the game was played on a baseball field rather than a softball field, which would be smaller with an infield made entirely of dirt, rather than a mixture of dirt and grass.

At the Athens Games in 2004 and the Beijing Games in 2008, host cities built softball fields as part of their Olympic infrastructure.

“I don’t care how the field looks, we’re happy he’s back and we’ve been waiting for a very long time,” Danielle O’Toole Trejo, who plays for the Mexico national team and is also a player in Athletes Unlimited , wrote on Twitter. “Our game is NOT going to change. We are GOOD enough to adapt. “

The Olympic comeback of sport, however, is bittersweet. There is no guarantee that softball will be featured in other Games.

“Our sport needs it,” said Finch. “It’s crucial for our sport on a global scale to be at the Olympics, to have our presence and to have the platform to show how great a game it is.”

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