Olympic softball was played on a baseball field. It was turf. Everyone has opinions.
Softball returned to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, and for the first time in Olympic history, took place at the same venue as baseball.
Turning on Team USA’s first matchup against Italy, I was beyond excited. Softball in the Olympics was something that had been longed for since it was removed for the 2012 Olympics. Coming off one of the best NCAA postseasons the sport had seen just a few months prior, nothing seemed better than the Olympics to keep demonstrating just how impressive softball is.
As the cameras panned over the field as the game started, I found myself trying to figure out what on earth I was looking at.
The pitcher’s circle was halfway on a baseball pitcher’s mound that had been lowered to regular field level. A fly ball to right field was actually caught right around where the second baseman would play in a baseball game. There were temporary fences in the outfield, and they were playing on a turf field, with dirt only at the pitcher’s circle and the batter’s box.
It gave the feel of a low-level softball game that didn’t expect a lot of coverage. It looked cheap.
Fans were disappointed with the IOC’s configuration of the field, feeling it misrepresented softball and showed a lack of consideration for the sport. They wanted it to feel like a true Olympic sporting event.
But the players didn’t feel quite the same as the fans. They entered the games knowing exactly what they were going to be working with. Many players and coaches praised the set-up and said they didn’t care what the field looked like. They were just happy to be there.
Softball and baseball alike are not guaranteed to remain in the Olympics after this year, so players were thrilled they got the chance to play at all. Tokyo is, in a way, a trial run for the two sports.
Having softball and baseball play on the same field showed the ease with which they could be included in the Olympics, demonstrating a new cost-effective way to play and hopefully making the sports more appealing to the IOC.
While we may not enjoy the general idea of softball being played on a baseball field, it is likely for the best if we want to see softball in the Olympics again.
And there’s an added bonus; seeing softball played on the dimensions of a baseball field puts into perspective the differences between the sports.
Softball’s infielders played in front of the “dirt” of baseball’s infield, meaning there was less ground for the ball to cover before it reached a player. So, quick reaction times and precision as well as speed on the basepaths are vital.
Softball is hard. Baseball is hard. Seeing the fields when they are literally laid on top of each other disprove both those who claim softball is easy and those who claim it’s the same as baseball.
While there is a long way to go for softball to get the true recognition and appreciation it deserves, the 2021 Olympics were nothing short of fantastic for the community and sport itself.
Women got to see their dreams become a reality. Little girls got to dream about playing in the Olympics. Everyone got to witness history. So while only three teams medaled, it seems like everybody won.