MLB Sponsoring Olympic Softball

Major League Baseball has chosen to use its muscle financially to support the Women’s U.S softball team after it was guaranteed a spot in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. While good news for the women’s team, the men’s team continue to struggle in their efforts to qualify.

The MLB further announced that it has agreed to be the sponsor for the “Stand Beside Her” women’s tour, a series of exhibition games that will take place in the lead up to the Olympics. Commenting on the agreement, the senior vice-president for baseball operations in the MLB, Kim Ng, stated “We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore. It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball was introduced into the Olympics’ in 1996 during the Atlanta Games. The opening year saw players such as Jessica Mendoza, Jennie Finch and Dot Richardson from the U.S women’s team winning gold, a feat they repeated in 2000 and again in 2004 however in the gold medal game during the 2008 games, Japan prevailed. After the 2008 games, both softball and baseball was dropped from the games but was restored for the upcoming 2020 games. The U.S team will be joined by Mexico, Canada, Australia and Italy in Yokohama and Fukushima. It is expected both will once again be dropped for the 2024 games but return in 2028.

While the women’s team have earned a positon, the U.S men’s team is not seeing the same level of success after they failed against Mexico in Novembers Premier12 tournament final. The U.S however have two remaining opportunities to qualify, one in late March and another in April. If they succeed they will join South Korea, Mexico, Japan and Israel.

One reason could be the MLB’s decision not to allow professional players from joining the rosters and that saw no pitching prospects on the team during the November tournament. Speaking on the decision Haylie McCleney, an American outfielder stated, “The platform for us is 10 times bigger. For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game — it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

In 2008, the gold medal game too less than two hours, less than half of that it took to complete the World Series final. As part of the MLB’s deal, the U.S team will train at the Vero Beach, Florida Jackie Robinson Training Complex.