(ATR) Co-Presidents Riccardo Fraccari and Don Porter tell Around the Rings the World Baseball Softball Confederation is thrilled with the "stunning success" of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
After qualifiers in September and November followed by first and second rounds earlier this month, competition came to a close last Tuesday at San Francisco’s AT&T Park with Dominican Republic topping Puerto Rico in a 3-0 shutout to claim the gold medal.
According to Fraccari and Porter, the entirety of the WBC drew more than 885,000 fans to ballparks in Europe, Asia and the Americas. TV coverage aired in more than 200 countries, they say, reaching record audiences in Japan, China and elsewhere.
"The WBC also gave us a sense of the national pride and player passion the Olympic Games could bring out in baseball and softball as well," they tell ATR.
"As we have listened to the IOC and our friends in the Olympic Family over the course of this campaign, we have learned a good deal about how to make our sport more appealing to the Olympic format – and we picked up some additional lessons watching the WBC unfold."
Fraccari and Porter also spent time last week meeting with their professional partners, including Major League Baseball, as they seek assurances from MLB – as provided in 2009 for baseball’s failed 2016 bid – that some players would be released for the Games, a guarantee thought key this go around.
Baseball and softball are competing against climbing, karate, roller sports, squash, wakeboard, wrestling and wushu for what will likely be only one open spot on the program of the 2020 Olympics.
"Make no mistake, professional baseball leagues around the world – from MLB in the U.S. to Nippon Baseball League in Japan to the Latin American leagues – all want to see baseball and softball in the Olympics," Fraccari and Porter tell ATR.
"They recognize the power of the Olympic Games to help popularize a sport that has already reached more than 120 countries, but still has plenty of room for growth."
Asked to what extent the 2013 WBC is a preview of what a 2020 baseball tournament would look like, they point out a couple of key differences – an Olympics competition would run six days, include eight, not 28, countries and possibly feature seven-inning games like softball – but call the WBC "a beautiful model" for their sport.
"Aside from the fact that our tournament – the WBSC Olympic Tournament – would establish a unique level of gender equity in a new team sport at the Olympic Games, with men and women sharing the stage equally in baseball and softball, exhibiting two distinct and thrilling forms of athleticism in two disciplines of a single team sport," they say, "the WBC does showcase the promise of having the pros play."
The finals in San Francisco, they note, featured Robinson Cano of the Yankees and Jose Reyes of the Blue Jays leading Dominican Republic over a Puerto Rico squad with Jose Molina of the Rays and Angel Pagan of the Giants, who in turn had eliminated both Team USA and defending champs Japan.
Whether baseball can bank on similar star power should the sport be reinstated at the Games is the big question ahead of presentations to the IOC Executive Board scheduled for May 29 on the sidelines of the SportAccord Convention in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Following the EB’s recommendation, IOC members will decide which sport to include in the 2020 Olympics at their 2013 Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina this September.
"We are hopeful, humble and cautiously optimistic," Fraccari and Porter tell ATR.
"There’s no doubt that with the diverse resources of baseball and softball and the unique platform of the Olympic Games, our sport could easily grow into the world’s next great global game."
Reported by Matthew Grayson
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