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

Tamara Holmes
2 Comments

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

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
Getty
0 Comments

In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. earned at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996), and a men’s or women’s gold at all but one Olympics. Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
Getty
0 Comments

Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!