CINCINNATI -- Back in late June, a six-day trip to Tokyo for the USA Softball Women's National Team culminated with a game against the Japanese Women's National Team that brought 31,000 spectators to the Tokyo Dome.What the team and the organization didn't realize at the time was that the game
CINCINNATI -- Back in late June, a six-day trip to Tokyo for the USA Softball Women's National Team culminated with a game against the Japanese Women's National Team that brought 31,000 spectators to the Tokyo Dome.
What the team and the organization didn't realize at the time was that the game would serve as a preview. A little over two months later, on Aug. 3, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to bring back baseball and softball for the 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo.
It was a decision long in the making for Craig Cress, the Amateur Softball Association (ASA)/USA Softball executive director, who has been with USA Softball since the IOC decided in August of 2005 to remove baseball and softball from the Games.
"As good a day as [Aug. 3] was, a day back in August in 2005 was the opposite of that," Cress said. "It was a day that you felt like you'd been punched in the stomach, and not just as an organization, but because of all the young ladies in the world that play our sport."
With the return of softball in the Olympics, the recently forged relationship between USA Softball and MLB's Play Ball initiative becomes even more pertinent.
"This is a perfect time to really make sure that we're promoting and we're doing everything we can to provide girls opportunities to play," said MLB vice president of youth programs David James.
On Saturday, Cress sat on a panel at the Kingsgate Marriot Conference Center in Cincinnati -- along with former USA Softball player Destinee Martinez, former Cincinnati RBI player and MLB youth programs intern Taylor Kinley, Reds senior vice president of business operations Karen Forgus, Reds director of digital media Lisa Braun and Reds director of marketing Audra Sordyl -- with nearly 100 softball players participating in the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) softball World Series.
The panel spent around an hour fielding questions from the girls, and the relationship between MLB and USA Softball, as well as the Olympics were two of the more heavily focused on topics. To the players, getting involved with USA Softball was a topic of intrigue, a positive sign for the organization because the girls participating in the tournament, most of which are high-school aged, will be the generation of players that make up the team that competes in the 2020 Games.
To Cress, it's events like this that made the relationship such a natural fit and through these types of events, he believes softball can take advantage of the stage it's been given in the 2020 Olympics.
"People ask me every day what we can do to help our sport, and it was just the positive promotion of the sport, events like this," Cress said. "I know that once we're given the opportunity again, we'll show that our sports belong on the Olympic program."
Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati.