Liam Hendriks of the Oakland Athletics pitches in the first inning against the New York Yankees during the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium on October 03, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
Liam Hendriks of the Oakland Athletics pitches in the first inning against the New York Yankees during the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium on October 03, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. AL BELLO

COME TOGETHER: Diamond sports' to work closer for growth

SOFTBALL/BASEBALL: The reintroduction of softball and baseball to the Olympic program could lead to closer co-operation between the national governing bodies of the diamond sports, but don't expect a merger like that at an international level.

Softball Australia CEO David Pryles and Baseball Australia CEO Sam Vale both said the sports planned to work closer than ever to capitalise on a wave of momentum from the combined Major League Baseball post-season, the upcoming expanded Australian Baseball League, and the sports' successful reintroduction to the Olympic Games program at Tokyo in 2020.

The World Baseball and Softball Confederation is the world governing body for both sports at international level, but while both BA and SA have clear and open communication, there is no chance of a merger at national level.

"There's no merger but we're looking to work together," Pryles said, describing the co-operation of the closely-related diamond sports as a synergy between the parties.

 

Maryborough softball grand finals - Men's A grade - Incas versus Aztecs - Nathan Cawley.
Maryborough softball grand finals - Men's A grade - Incas versus Aztecs - Nathan Cawley. Valerie Horton

Vale said a review of the diamond sports conducted through Australian Sports Commission (Sport Australia) and consultant group Nielsen had identified how BA and SA could work together.

"(The report) has identified multiple opportunities and Baseball Australia is keen to take up this project with Softball Australia, and I have been in regular dialogue with my counterpart at Softball Australia and we hope they view it as favourably as we do," Vale said.

BA has experienced participation growth of 8.5 per cent since 2014, though for Fraser Coast players, the closest baseball association for junior players is located at Gympie.

The closest baseball association for senior players is based at the Sunshine Coast.

 

Sam McNeice pitches for Rangers. GBL Baseball Rangers vs Redlands. Sunday, 7th Oct, 2018.
Sam McNeice pitches for Rangers. GBL Baseball Rangers vs Redlands. Sunday, 7th Oct, 2018. Nev Madsen

Vale said this was a period of rebuilding for BA, and pointed to the ABL restructure - this season, which starts November 15, will include two new teams: Auckland Tautura and Geelong-Korea - and the T-Ball project (a plan, similar to AFL's Auskick, which will allow for baseball to be integrated into schools) as major projects that will take time, but could deliver growth in the long-term.

"The period from 2019 should be about growing the game at all levels, increasing the exposure of the sport domestically through the ABL and succeeding with our national team," Vale said.

SA has a national participation rate of about 160,000, and the local intercity season is building as the biggest in decades as teams based in Hervey Bay, Maryborough and Bundaberg join for competition.

"As a heritage sport we are doing okay. We haven't had the level of funding others have had in the past, but we are working on a few things that will be very exciting for the sport," Pryles said.

While baseball had been played at several Olympics in the decades since 1904, it did not become part of the Olympic program in 1992.

Softball was introduced as a women-only sport in 1996.

The sports were last played at the Beijing 2008 Olympics after the diamond sports became the first since polo in 1936 to be voted out of the program.

A concerted campaign, announced in 2011, fought for both sports' inclusion in the program for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It was successfully admitted after the 129th International Olympics Committee session in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August, 2016.


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