2021 in Review: Baseball, Softball a home run at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

2021 in Review: Baseball, Softball a home run at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
22/12/2021
In spite of not being able to host spectators in Tokyo, both baseball and softball events were a huge hit with fans around the world.

The memorable baseball and softball return to the Olympic Games in Tokyo will go down in history as one of the most important moments in the history of our sport. Not only did baseball and softball return to the Olympic programme after 13 years, but they did it in astonishing fashion, being one of the highlights of all the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Softball had the honour to open the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games sports programme with host Japan facing off against Australia at the Fukushima Azuma Stadium, two days before the Opening Ceremony. IOC President Thomas Bach was reported as saying: “Congratulations to Japan for defeating Australia 8-1 today in softball - it’s a promising start for our Japanese hosts. From what I heard the organization was seamless and worked very well, so I think the Games are off to a great start.” President Bach had a chance to witness first-hand the baseball event opener, also in Fukushima, between Japan and Dominican Republic.

The seven games played in Fukushima (six softball games and one baseball match) were a strong message of hope and recovery to the world, more than a decade after the area was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, 2011.


Superb Softball

The softball competition was a fierce six-team battle for a medal, with Japan topping USA, 2-0, in the Gold Medal Game to repeat as Olympic champions. Even though Japan’s two-way player Yamato Fujita was named MVP of the tournament (she appeared in all games, going 7 for 18, .389 batting average, with 3 home runs and pitched 8 innings allowing only 2 runs), the name of the softball competition was again Yukiko Ueno. The 39-year old pitcher added a second gold medal to her brilliant career (after her legendary performance in Beijing 2008), with another historic performance. Ueno tossed 22.1 innings with two wins and no losses, striking out 26. She only allowed three runs and 13 hits, for a 0.94 ERA. 

"This was different from the previous gold medal. Playing on home soil came with a huge amount of pressure," said Ueno, also the winning pitcher in the Beijing 2008 final. "I went through a lot over the past 13 years to be able to take the mound here. And with that in mind, I wanted to stay out there as long as I possibly could."

"I was a high school student when the Beijing Olympics happened, so it is like a miracle that I play with Ueno now,” said MVP Fujita. “I'm honoured that we had this greatest moment together. So I found from this experience that if you don't give up, a dream will come true. So, I want children to keep playing softball without giving up their dreams."


Brilliant Baseball

The baseball event was dominated by a star-studded Japanese team, that went undefeated in the tournament to claim their first-ever Olympic gold medal, with another 2-0 win over USA in the final game. 

Japanese super-star Tetsuto Yamada was named MVP of the tournament. He started five games for Japan, four as the designated hitter one at second base. He went 7-for-20 with a home run and seven runs batted in (RBIs).

Japan’s manager Atsunori Inaba said: "[second baseman] Ryosuke Kikuchi put the gold medal on my neck in the locker room. I watched it, and I saw that the colour is wonderful. It's also very heavy. Winning gold showed the world the strength of Japanese baseball, and this success will bring more people to baseball in Japan also."


Special Mention

USA infielder Eddy Alvarez won a silver medal in Tokyo and became the sixth athlete in history to medal in both the Summer and Winter Games, after winning silver in the 5,000-meter speed skating relay in 2014. He was USA's flag-bearer in the Closing Ceremony.

In spite of not being able to host spectators in Tokyo, both baseball and softball events were a huge hit with fans around the world. The baseball Gold Medal Game between Japan and USA was the most watched sports event of all the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with a 37% final rating and peaks of 44%; while both disciplines generated hype and a buzz throughout the Olympics.

Ueno made history again at the Yokohama Stadium leading Japan to their second consecutive Olympic softball gold medal, 13 years after her legendary performance in Beijing 2008. It was the third Olympics for the Fukuoka native, who added a second gold medal to her brilliant career, that also includes back to back WBSC Women’s Softball World Championships in 2012 and 2014. Ueno has pitched 100 innings in her Olympic career, giving up 55 hits, 14 earned runs with 89 strikeouts and 13 walks. Her cumulative ERA is 0.98.


Baseball / softball belongs in the Olympics

After the success of the baseball and softball competitions at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, coaches, managers and players were unanimous in their belief that baseball and softball should be played at each edition of the Games, every four years.

"I think a terrible injustice was done to women’s softball when it was taken out in 2008," said long-time Canada softball head coach Mark Smith. "When you look at equity, there are certainly not as many female athletes at an Olympic Games as there are men’s. I think softball has more than made its case for why it should be in."

Major League Baseball (MLB) veteran Scott Kazmir from USA was impressed by the intensity of the Olympic tournament: "There’s been so much passion this entire Olympics," he said. "Every single team is in with every single pitch. It almost feels like a World Series game. Every single game, every single pitch. Even with no fans, it is a special moment to be a part of this."

Canadian softball pitcher Jenna Caira, after winning the bronze medal for her country, said: "I hope that we were able to show a little glimpse of that to the world and especially to the IOC, and I hope that they can take that into account of how many eyes are watching and how many female athletes love this sport,"  

Legendary USA Baseball manager Mike Scioscia defined the Olympics: "A freaking awesome experience. It's an incredible oversight not having baseball included as a permanent sport in the Summer Olympics."

While baseball players Baek-ho Kang from Korea and former MLB star José Bautista from the Dominican Republic were both in awe of the Olympic experience. "Playing in the Olympics was one of my dreams. It was such an honour to be here," Kang said. "When you’re representing your country, there’s a sense of pride and patriotism which doesn’t play into it when you’re playing in a professional sports league," Bautista added.

WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari summed it up best in a message after the Olympics: “My team and I can go back home knowing that our sport, our athletes and our movement, made invaluable contributions to the overall success of these unique Olympic Games,” said Fraccari. “From opening the Games’ competitions at the Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima on 21 July with women’s softball, to Eddy Alverez becoming only the sixth Olympian to win medals at both a Winter and Summer Olympic Games, it’s safe to say that baseball and softball have left their mark on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

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