Olympic Baseball Qualifier generates fan and media buzz as USA claims ticket in final game

Olympic Baseball Qualifier generates fan and media buzz as USA claims ticket in final game
07/06/2021
With 16 electric games, the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier brought passion and excitement to Florida in international baseball’s return to the field after 19 months.

The WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier ended on Saturday on a high note, with host and world No. 2 USA claiming the lone available spot for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games baseball competition after an undefeated five-game campaign. The tournament marked the official return of international baseball after a 17-month hiatus for the pandemic.

Top-level baseball was played throughout six days of competition, with a mix of top young baseball prospects and veterans with extensive and successful professionals careers at all levels. Names like Todd Frazier, Jose Bautista, Anibal Sanchez or Melky Cabrera merged with some of the top rising prospects in the minors like Matthew Liberatore or Julio Rodriguez, who are expected to be some of the future stars of the game.

“We have seen some amazing action over the past six days, the atmosphere has been incredible, and I’m pleased to see the world’s top international teams back on the diamond again, showing the strength and depth of baseball, especially in the Americas,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari.

Patriotic Pride

The players concurred, treasuring the opportunity to represent their country on the journey towards potential qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. "Representing my country is just the most special baseball I’ve ever played in my life," said 20-year-old Dominican Republic right fielder Rodriguez. "It’s just a different feeling. It's the most special moment of my life."

MLB veteran Frazier, who helped USA claim the Tokyo 2020 Olympic ticket, added: "This is something that I'll never forget, this is one of the best moments in my professional career, playing for your country."

Used to a quiet, calm and relaxed crowd during MLB spring training and minor league season, the players enjoyed an unforgettable experience with passionate fans from eight different countries screaming and chanting for their national teams, and players giving their hearts in every pitch chasing their Olympic dreams.

LA28 Preview

In addition, local fans embraced the Olympic spirit for a week, leaving them an everlasting sense of pride and enjoyment for being part of baseball’s path to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, giving an excellent prelude of what can be expected at LA2028, with the top teams in the world participating for Olympic glory in the birthplace of baseball.

Crowd numbers were especially impressive, taking into consideration the COVID-19 safety restrictions, with over 25,000 fans attending the event. And for those who couldn't be there in person, the tournament was broadcast in over 70 countries and territories while over two million fans engaged with the tournament through the WBSC and GameTime social channels, including over three million video views.

“As we have seen in the Americas Qualifier, our sport is connecting millions of fans from different communities living in the US and we expect this on a much larger and global scale with Olympic baseball-softball at LA28,” Fraccari added.

The local and international media also followed suit with plenty of coverage, especially across North, South and Central-America with close to 200 media accredited for the tournament - attending personally or virtually - taking advantage of the post game press conferences which were provided in English and Spanish after each game.

Health and safety measures

The WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier will be remembered as the first official international baseball event after the pandemic, and also the first one hosted under strict safety and health protocols to keep everyone safe.

Thanks to an agreement with the local authorities, the WBSC was able to offer over 500 free vaccinations to spectators and 107 to athletes that were not vaccinated upon arrival. While over 1,480 COVID-19 tests were conducted during the tournament with no positive results.

"All officials and staff always wore masks as part of a strict protocol, which demonstrates that we can hold sporting events safely, also with spectators," President Fraccari said. "This experience gives all of us and the entire Olympic Movement great confidence towards the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in less than 50 days".

After such a successful tournament in Florida, all eyes now turn to the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier, which will take place in Puebla, Mexico from 22-26 June and will be held under the same health and safety protocols.

Australia, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands and Venezuela will be striving to claim the sixth and final ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Final Qualifier.