We are just weeks away from baseball’s return to the Olympic Games, at the COVID-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics (now 2021, but they already had printed the t-shirts). Baseball, of course, was kicked out of the Olympic program after the 2008 games, partly because MLB won’t let its stars play but also because the IOC is a European-dominated institution that probably doesn’t know a fastball from a change-up.
However, now it has returned thanks to changes in how Olympic sports can be chosen, where hosts can decide to add sports that are popular in their country. So, of course, baseball (and softball) have returned to the Olympics for 2020/21. They will be gone again in 2024 in Paris, but then are likely to return in Los Angeles in 2028. After that? Apparently Brisbane is the current front-runner for the 2032 games. Baseball isn’t exactly popular in Australia but it isn’t totally unknown either, so who knows?
Anyway, this year’s baseball tournament has a bit of an odd look to it since it has six teams, not the eight you’d usually expect. This apparently is the result of efforts by the IOC to limit the number of athletes taking part in the games as a cost-cutting move. The six teams that have qualified are (in order of the time they qualified):
- South Korea
- The USA
- Dominican Republic
They’ll be set up in two groups: Japan, Mexico, and the Dominican in one, and Israel, South Korea, and Team USA in the other. Each team will have two games in their group. There is then a double-elimination tournament until finally the medal games happen. The whole deal is pretty complicated so I just suggest you look at this PDF to get an idea of how this modified double-elimination works. Basically the major incentive for winning the group is that you have a chance of jumping straight to the quarterfinals, while the reason you really want to avoid being in third in the bracket is that you’ll have to play against the other third-place team in an elimination game before entering the double-elimination. You can see more of the schedule here.
Most games will take place not in Tokyo proper, but rather in Yokohama at Yokohama Stadium, home of the Yokohama Bay Stars. It seats over 34,000 people, although due to COVID-19 restrictions as of now it is believed that it will only have about 10,000 for the games. In addition to Yokohama, one game (the opener between Japan and the Dominican) will take place at Fukushima Azuma Stadium in Fukushima. This is meant as a primarily symbolic gesture towards that region, which bore the worst of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as the resulting nuclear crisis. While Azuma Stadium doesn’t have a permanent NPB team, it is still a large, world-class stadium holding around 30,000 fans during normal times (although, again, COVID restrictions will likely keep it to 10K).
Each of the coming team previews will be formatted in a way similar to some of my previous World Baseball Classic coverage. Here’s a bit of a key:
About the Country: Self-explanatory.
Baseball History: Self-explanatory.
Olympic History: A look at the country’s history at the Olympics, both in baseball and other sports.
Road to Tokyo: How the team qualified.
Notable Names: The Olympic baseball tournament doesn’t have Major Leaguers, but it still will have notable names, such as former big leaguers who have since gone to play overseas or found themselves in the minors or looking for a job. They’ll be showcased here.
Ones to Watch: The Olympics are also filled with prospects and overseas players that we may one day see in the big leagues. This is where they’ll feature.
So, stick around in the coming days as I begin the previews for this year’s Olympic Baseball tournament.