Baseball to add women to Olympic bid

Monday, April 06, 2009
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON —  Baseball will be adding a women's component to its bid to get reinstated for the 2016 Olympics, after failing to unite with women's softball.

The president of the International Baseball Federation, Harvey Schiller, told The Associated Press the change will be made in the next few days.

"The main reason is the growth of the game, and, obviously, we have a constituency which makes up women's baseball, and they're asking, 'What about us?'" Schiller said in a telephone interview Monday. "We want the world to know that we have women's baseball."

The move comes a few weeks after women's softball rejected baseball's proposal for a joint baseball-softball bid. The two sports are among seven competing for two openings for new sports at the 2016 Olympics; the International Olympic Committee will decide in October.

Schiller estimated that between 300,000 and 500,000 women and girls play baseball worldwide, a figure which includes Little League and T-ball.

Jim Glennie, president of the American Women's Baseball Federation, called news of the expanded bid "wonderful." Glennie recruits women for the U.S. national team, which competes in the Women's World Cup of Baseball.

Glennie, an assistant attorney general in Michigan, said he didn't know of any high schools in the U.S. that offer women's baseball, and that girls who want to play baseball beyond Little League face an uphill battle. Some girls have been able to land roster spots on boy's high school baseball teams, but those are rare, he said.

"It's been that way _ baseball for the boys, softball for the girls," said Glennie, who got involved in women's baseball in 1992, when his daughter wanted to play the sport.

The president of the International Softball Federation, Don Porter, said Monday he was surprised by baseball's move.

"I didn't think many women were playing baseball," said Porter, whose group has given the IOC the option of adding men's softball to the sport. "That's fine, if they want to involve females. All sports should do that."

The IOC voted to drop baseball and softball in 2005, and softball officials have said their sport was hurt by baseball's doping scandals. Since softball was added to the Olympics in 1996, the U.S. won three straight golds before losing to Japan in Beijing.

Lilly Jacobson, who played for the Vassar men's baseball team last year and played twice for the women's U.S. national baseball team, said coaches and parents push girls into softball.

"By creating a future, and showing there is support for women's baseball, this is a fantastic development," she said of the Olympic effort.

Jacobson grew up in Reno, Nev., where she pitched and played outfield for her high school team. At Vassar, she was a reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter.

"I hope this creates more support for women's baseball in the United States because other countries are far ahead of us in their support for women's baseball," she said.

Last month, Japan's first female professional player, 17-year-old Eri Yoshida, made her debut, striking out one and walking one in relief in the newly formed Kansai Independent League, which is akin to farm team ball. Yoshida models herself on Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Jacobson's mother, Jennifer Ring, touches on Jacobson's experiences in her new book, "Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball." Ring, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Reno, said many American women played baseball at the college and semipro level in the 19th century. But around 1900, men started pushing women into softball, in part because of the professionalization of baseball, she said.

"Baseball's the national game, and girls should have a choice," Ring said. "There's something very strange about the national pastime excluding half the nation."

Women's baseball got a quick moment in popular culture with the 1992 movie, "A League of Their own," starring Rosie O'Donnell, Madonna and Tom Hanks. The film told the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was started by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley in 1943 as a way to keep interest in baseball thriving during World War II. But the league folded in 1954.


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