Tamara Holmes

Women’s baseball, men’s softball players will never get closer to the Olympics than at Pan American Games

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In August 2016, the International Olympic Committee is expected to decide if baseball and softball will be re-added for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

To be more precise, the IOC will be looking at men’s baseball and women’s softball.

At the ongoing Pan American Games, the U.S. baseball and softball teams are vying for medals against other North and South American nations.

To be more precise, the U.S. men’s and women’s baseball teams and men’s and women’s softball teams are competing at the Pan Am Games.

It’s the first time both genders are playing baseball and softball at the Pan Am Games, with women’s baseball making its Pan Am Games debut and men’s softball returning to the program of the quadrennial multisport event for the first time since 2003.

Women’s baseball and men’s softball have never been part of the Olympics. Every Olympic proposal for baseball or softball has been exclusively for men’s baseball or women’s softball, according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation.

“The long-term plan and strategy would be to position men’s softball and women’s baseball for potential Olympic consideration, given the opportunity,” a World Baseball Softball Confederation official said in an email.

But it wouldn’t happen soon, which makes this month’s Pan American Games the closest thing to the Olympics that these women’s baseball and men’s softball players can experience.

“It’s clearly the biggest event that women’s baseball has ever had,” said U.S. outfielder Tamara Holmes, a 41-year-old who in the 1990s played for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a barnstorming women’s team that once engaged in a benches-clearing brawl with an 18-and-under boys team and, later, became who was believed to be the first female position player on a men’s professional baseball team, the independent league Massachusetts Mad Dogs.

The U.S. women are certainly medal contenders at the Pan Am Games, if not gold-medal favorites. In the Women’s Baseball World Cup, they have finished no worse than third in all six editions of the even-numbered-year tournament that debuted in 2004. Only Japan has a better record.

The accolades — and the sport itself — are lost on the general public.

Another U.S. player, Malaika Underwood, said people will often ask what sport she plays. She will answer, “baseball player,” and will usually be corrected. “Oh, you play softball.”

Men’s softball players can relate.

source:
Chris Miljavac and Matt Palazzo. (USA Softball)

“I hear it all the time, you’re playing a girls sport,” said Chris Miljavac, a U.S. infielder and project manager/estimator at Miljavac Electric in St. Joseph, Mo., who like many men picked up slow-pitch softball once his competitive baseball days were over. “We ride the coattails of the women’s team.”

Miljavac didn’t find slow-pitch demanding enough. So he tried fast-pitch, where pitch speeds can reach mid-80 miles per hour from a mound 46 feet away, he said.

“The reaction time to hit fast-pitch is less than the reaction time for Major League Baseball players to hit a 100-mph fastball from 60 feet away,” Miljavac said. “Softball players kind of pride ourselves in that.”

The U.S. men’s softball team’s sights are set on Pan Am Games host Canada, the defending Pan Am champion and the reigning World champion.

“It’s as close as we’re going to get to the Olympics,” said captain Matt Palazzo, the son of a fast-pitch player who turned to softball after playing college baseball.

The U.S., which took silver to Canada at the 2003 Pan Am Games, hasn’t won a World title since 1988.

“You really get treated well at the Pan American Games,” said U.S. manager Denny Bruckert, 70, who was an assistant coach at the 1999 Pan Am Games. “I can remember all the gear that we got.”

The Pan Am Games experience is hard to explain, Miljavac said. Many of the athletes with whom the women’s baseball and men’s softball players share village and dining hall space use the event as training for the Olympics.

“But you share common goals,” said Miljavac, who remembered meeting Olympic champion softball pitchers Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman at the 2003 Pan Am Games, “to be the best in your sport and, obviously, you’re fighting for one common goal, to win the gold and represent USA as proudly as you can.”

Jennie Finch, Lisa Fernandez react to Mo’ne Davis’ stardom

Gracie Gold qualifies for nationals, Polina Edmunds shut out

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2014 Olympian Gracie Gold qualified for the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships by virtue of a third-place finish at the Eastern Sectional Singles Final on Saturday in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

“Bronze: so hot this fall,” Gold posted on Instagram. She last competed at U.S. nationals in 2017, when she finished sixth. She won the national title in 2014 and 2016.

Gold sat second after the short program with 63.55 points, and ultimately finished third overall with 109.90 points in the free skate for 173.45 points. The top four at the event qualify for the national championships in Greensboro, North Carolina in January.

Her free skate included a fall on the opening triple Lutz and an under-rotation on the triple Lutz, double toe loop combination. She also put a hand down on the landing of a double Axel. The rest of the program, though, was clean.

Her performance, set to “She Used to be Mine” by Sara Bareilles, can be found at the 2:05 mark of the on-demand stream of the event for NBC Gold Pass subscribers.

Meanwhile, her Sochi teammate Polina Edmunds was shut out of nationals based on a fifth-place finish at the Pacific Coast Sectional Singles Final (top four qualify). Her performance can be found for NBC Gold Pass subscribers at the 1:50 mark of the on-demand stream for the event. Edmunds last competed at Nationals in 2016, when she earned the silver medal behind Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Bronze: so hot this fall 🥉

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Brittany Bowe extends unbeaten streak to open speed skating World Cup

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Brittany Bowe extended one of the most dominant runs for any U.S. Winter Olympian, earning her first straight World Cup 1000m win to open the season on Sunday.

Bowe, fourth and eighth in the event at her two Olympics, clocked 1:15.35 in Minsk, Belarus, to beat PyeongChang gold medalist Jorien ter Mors by six tenths. Ter Mors missed all of last season after knee surgery.

Bowe won every World Cup 1000m dating to last December, plus her second world title in the event last February, lowering track records at each stop.

She ended last season by breaking the world record by .48 of a second on the fast ice of the 2002 Olympic oval in Kearns, Utah. That time — 1:11.61 — would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1997.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard who missed all of 2016-17 with a concussion, is up to 23 career World Cup wins. That’s fifth on the U.S. all-time list behind Bonnie Blair (69), Shani Davis (58), Dan Jansen (46) and Heather Bergsma (34), according to schaatsstatistieken.nl.

The World Cup moves to Poland next week.

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