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Olympic Baseball

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Former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman. Former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.

By Scott Branson | LSU Student

The 2012 London Olympic Games will feature two fewer sports – baseball and softball – as result of a 2005 International Olympic Committee vote to dismiss the sports, the first such vote since a 1936 decision to eliminate polo.

Reaction from current and former LSU coaches is mixed.

There are many reason's America's Pastime isn't compatible with the Summer Olympics, but former Team USA and LSU coach Skip Bertman said one issue prevails over all others:

"While some countries, like Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, take baseball very, very seriously, there are probably 200 countries that don't even know what baseball is. They play cricket, soccer, or some other sport."

The result is a competition that lacks a worldly feel, confining the Olympics playoff to just eight countries.

"The basic events of track and field are basically in every country," Bertman said. "That's what makes all the events so great, because you're competing against so many countries. You can't say that about baseball and softball."

At the 1996 Atlanta games, more than 50 thousand people packed into Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to watch Team USA play to a bronze medal.

"Playing in the United States was terrific," Bertman said. "But in South Korea [in 1988], all we had (in the stands) were a few thousand soldiers stationed in South Korea and school children they let out to come watch a baseball game."

LSU Softball Coach Beth Torina said losing the sport as an Olympic sport affects the game across the world.

"We see a lot of softball being played everywhere," Torina said. "Japan is really strong, Australia, too. There are a lot of countries with really good softball."

Torina said the national team will feel the effects of no longer being involved with the Olympics, but the program continues to compete."It changes a lot of things we do, but the national team still continues to be strong."

Warren Morris, second baseman on the bronze medal-winning Team USA at the 1996 Atlanta, said as popular as baseball is in America, other countries will suffer more with baseball's removal from the Olympics.

"Countries like Cuba and Japan do a lot to instill that their country's teams are good and they have a lot of pride in that," Morris said. "I know it was a blow for them, as well as here in the United States."

Another problem dooming baseball's chances as an Olympic sport is that Major League Baseball refused to allow its players to play in the Olympics, as the games occur during the professional baseball season.

"Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and others were the Dream Team in 1996," Bertman said. "The best basketball players on the planet represented the United States. That made tremendous television, but Major League Baseball was not willing to stop its season for three weeks."

The current Team USA still competes against other countries in smaller events, but Morris said nothing can compare to the Olympic experience.

"Being a part of the pageantry, being around the other athletes, it's truly something that places all over the world stop for a few weeks to watch and take pride in," Morris said. "Hopefully they'll bring it back."

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