Dane Co athletes excited for return of baseball & softball in Tokyo Olympics, hope for permanency in future games

Updated: Jul. 18, 2021 at 9:30 PM CDT
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DANE COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV) - Baseball and softball are making a comeback for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. These sports are wildly popular in Japan, so the International Olympic Committee decided to bring them back for the first time since their removal in 2008.

The news came to the excitement of players across the globe, including in Dane County. UW Club Baseball Head Coach Jeff Block is ready to root for Team USA after a 13-year absence from the games.

“Watching baseball at any level, but especially kind of an unpaid, representing something bigger than yourself, it’s such a great message to send to anyone,” said Block.

Block recalled watching the sport on this international level in previous games. “The US won gold in 2000 and Ben Sheets, who was a rising prospect for the Brewers, was a part of that team. It was just really cool to see these young guys who weren’t yet stars trying to make it,” Block said.

UW catcher Conlan O’Brien is equally as excited to scout the talent new and old this year.

“Players that I watched growing up like Todd Fraizer and Edwin Jackson. I mean they’re not on a major league roster right now, but they’re back to playing so I’m excited to watch that,” said O’Brien, a Sun Prairie native and UW Madison Junior.

Pitching similar feelings for softball’s return to the Olympic games is UW Madison Head Softball Coach, Yvette Healy.

“With Tokyo hosting and them being such a great softball community, everyone knew that they would pick that sport back up, so we were thrilled. I mean the sport needs to be in the Olympics. There’s so many fans watching so we loved it,” said Healy.

UW softball player, sophomore Peyton Bannon, plans on watching every Olympic softball game in the coming weeks. She sees this as an inspiration for many athletes in her shoes.

“I think it’s just going to like give a lot of college players something more to work for. I think that’s the biggest thing, a lot of people kind of stop playing in college, and I think the Olympics bringing softball back is going to create so many opportunities,” said Bannon.

The UW Softball team will also be looking out for former UW softball stand-out, Kelsey Jenkins Harshman, who is playing for Team Canada.

“She was a phenomenal hitter for us in the Big 10, but she’s taken this to the next level. She’s stronger, she’s smarter,” said Coach Healy. She added, “we will be cheering for the US, but we’ll cheer for Canada when they’re not playing the US,” Healy said.

“Our coaches talk about her all the time, and she’s been killing it. I just think it’s so cool that one of our alumni is playing and representing in the Olympics,” told Bannon.

This is set to be a one-time-only return for both baseball and softball unless the IOC decides to propose the sports again in subsequent games.

Both Coach Healy and Coach Block are hopeful that the Olympic rings will feature a diamond again in the future.

“As you get more exposure to it, it becomes more and more popular. The Olympics are an important avenue for that,” said Block.

“I love watching the opportunities in the Olympics. We really hope softball makes it back permanently,” echoed Healy.

In 2008 Team USA won the bronze in baseball, with South Korea taking the gold after beating Cuba. That same year in softball, Team USA won the silver after losing to Japan.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Softball games run July 21-27 with USA, Australia, Japan, Italy, Mexico and Canada competing.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Baseball games run July 28 – August 7 with USA, Dominican Republic, Japan, Israel and Republic of Korea competing.

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