The U.S. men have yet to qualify for baseball’s much-awaited return to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics so, at this point, Major League Baseball is throwing its weight behind the women’s national softball team.
League officials announced Thursday they will sponsor the “Stand Beside Her” tour, a series of exhibition games in advance of the Summer Games, and let the women train at the old Dodgers complex in Vero Beach, Fla.
“The players on Team USA share our commitment to growing softball, and we look forward to joining them as they inspire young women to play the sport,” said Tony Reagins, an MLB executive vice president. “We are thrilled to be along for their incredible ride.”
After the International Olympic Committee voted to drop both sports in 2005, the governing bodies for amateur baseball and softball in the U.S. combined on a difficult but ultimately successful effort to get back on the program.
The women’s team — which has a history of stars such as Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman and Jessica Mendoza — is assured a spot in the competition this summer.
“USA Softball is extremely grateful for the support of Major League Baseball,” said Craig Cress, the governing body’s chief executive.
The American men failed in their first attempt to qualify for Tokyo but have two more chances to claim one of the six available slots. If they are successful, it remains to be seen if any pro players will be on the roster. MLB has never interrupted its schedule during the Games.
In making their announcement on Thursday, league officials said the softball deal will include exposure on the MLB Network and social media platforms as the women’s tour, which begins in early February, makes its way through more than 35 cities.