(ATR) There were two celebrations on the final night of the Pre-Olympic Tournament of the Americas: the undefeated qualification of the United States to the Tokyo Games and the confirmation that there was not a single case of Covid-19.
"Together we marked a safe return to international baseball," said the president of the World Baseball/Softball Confederation, Italian Riccardo Fraccari, in praising the work of Palm Beach and Saint Lucie County authorities.
"We have brought the Olympic spirit to Florida," said Fraccari at Clover Park after presenting the Olympic Champion and Fifth Qualifier Certificate to manager Mike Scioscia.
With 46 days to go before the opening of the Olympic Games in the Japanese capital, this Olympic Qualifier may have sent an important signal in the application of effective sanitary measures in large sporting events.
More than 1,500 highly sensitive tests were processed. The tests were conducted every two days on players, officials, and all other personnel involved in the competition that ran from May 31 to June 5 with a "bubble" format and a requirement to wear masks at all times.
All tests were negative.
According to the organizers, 107 single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccinations were administered to players and other officials from the eight participating teams who requested them.
This process, developed by the WBSC in conjunction with the Organizing Committee and local health authorities, was also extended to fans.
Fraccari himself revealed to Around the Rings that more than 500 spectators asked to be vaccinated upon entering the stadium.
"This important step guaranteed us a safe and successful international tournament," underlined the European manager.
The Florida Pre-Olympic was the first baseball event organized by the WBSC in more than a year due to the pandemic.
For the first time, baseball returned to the field with the presence of fans, to normal life," Fraccari said.
"The tournament was a demonstration that it is possible to play at this time of particular attention without any contagion.
"I believe we are the only one, and if not, one of the few, to have held an Olympic Qualifier with a crowd.
"With a limitation of up to 2,000 spectators per game, due to health restrictions, there were overall more than 25,000 fans registered," commented Fraccari who received the Eagle Award from the U.S. Sports Academy during a ceremony before the final match.
Also there was the honorary member of the IOC, Guatemalan Willi Kaltschmidt, vice president of WBSC.
Following the opening of the new Major League Baseball season in April, public access restrictions have gradually been eased in line with the national vaccination campaign and more and more MLB stadiums are opening to full capacity.
While the United States is packing its bags for Tokyo, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, second and third place in the competition, will travel to Mexico in two weeks to play for the sixth and final Olympic ticket with Australia and the Netherlands in the city of Puebla, some 105 kilometers from the Mexican capital.
ATR learned that the Dominicans will not return to Santo Domingo and will remain in the training camps in Florida until their departure for Mexico. It is possible they will play practice matches with the Mexican team, which has already qualified for the Olympic tournament in Tokyo along with Japan, South Korea and Israel.
Canada, the fourth qualifier of the Super Round, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia were the other participating teams.
The surprise of the tournament was the elimination of Cuba, gold medalists in Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004, and silver medalists in Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008. Cuba suffered the defections of three important players: pitchers Lazaro Blanco and Andy Rodriguez and second baseman Cesar Prieto. On the day of the return to Havana, the team's psychologist also left the delegation.
About the elimination Fraccari said: "for the first time not having Cuba in the Olympiad is something that sounds strange to me".
On the other hand, the United States proved to be not only an undefeated champion with a 5-0 record, but also the best defensive team (2.50 efficiency and only two errors), with a collective batting average of .312.
"We played consistently," said U.S. coach Mike Scioscia after the final game.
The former Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star catcher and World Series-winning manager added: "I've learned a lot, this is totally different than a Major League season."
Veteran third baseman Todd Frazier was the team's Most Valuable Player during the Super Round. He went 4-for-4 with a home run against Venezuela in the final game, but also had two RBIs against Canada the day before.
Since baseball's official acceptance into the Olympic Program in 1992, the U.S. has failed to qualify only once. During the 2003 Americas Qualifier in Panama, they were eliminated by Mexico and did not participate in the 2004 Athens Games. Baseball was an Olympic sport between 1992 and 2008 and is returning in Tokyo.
The United States, led by legendary manager Tommy Lasorda, won the gold medal at Sydney 2000 over Cuba. The USA has also won two bronze medals (Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008) in Olympic baseball.Venezuela will be trying for its first Olympic spot while the Dominican Republic will be fighting for a second appearance and the first since Barcelona in the tournament in Mexico later this month.
The Florida Olympic Qualifier television signal was broadcast to more than 70 countries and territories.
Written and reported by Miguel Hernandez
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