Ultimate College Softball
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In Phoenix this weekend and grabbed the paper and here is what I found on the FRONT page of the sports section:

Softball players, game's leaders push to get the sport reinstated into the Olympics

Aug. 21, 2008 - Cat Osterman of the United States delivers a pitch against Japan during the women's gold medal game held at the Fengtai Softball Field during Day 13 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Aug. 21, 2008 - Cat Osterman of the United States delivers a pitch against Japan during the women's gold medal game held at the Fengtai Softball Field during Day 13 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.


The bat sports -- baseball and softball -- took their big hit from the International Olympic Committee seven years ago.

Neither would be included at the 2012 London Olympics, ending a run that began in 1992 for baseball and '96 for softball. That decision was reaffirmed in 2006 and, worse, extended through the 2016 Olympics when time came in 2009 to set that program.

The IOC instead gave thumbs up to golf and rugby for the Rio de Janeiro Games. So best case, which is far from assured, baseball and softball would be approved next year for Olympic reinstatement in 2020. By then, Arizona State All-America pitcher Dallas Escobedo, going into her junior year, would be 28.

"That's kind of a long time away," admits Escobedo, whose USA Softball credentials already include a Junior World gold medal.

"It's a huge bummer. I don't see why some sports can be in the Olympics and softball can't. I'm going to miss it because it gives people hope. It gave me hope to be where Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman are, to be on their level."

Lisa Fernandez and Finch became major media and marketing personalities thanks to Olympic softball, with others also breaking through for visibility beyond their sport.

Escobedo still remembers the "unreal" feeling of striking out Olympians Jessica Mendoza, Stacey Nuveman and Vicky Galindo during an exhibition in Prescott on the 2008 pre-Beijing tour.

"I was so pumped. I threw the hardest ever."

Mendoza is a past president of the Women's Sports Foundation.

The International Baseball Federation says returning to the Olympics is a priority. But it's a necessity for softball, which fights to keep its U.S. pro league alive and, of course, has nothing comparable to the World Series or even the fledgling World Baseball Classic.

"I'm not going to lie: It hurts," says Kaitlin Cochran, former ASU outfielder now on the USA National team. "Maybe this would have been my (Olympic) opportunity. But we've come to terms with it. We're trying to make a good push this summer and make a huge statement to get back in the Olympics. It's still a huge honor to represent your country. There are only 17 girls on this team, and I'm lucky enough to be one of them."

But even a win at the World Championships, going on through July 22 in Canada, would pale compared to being in the Olympic glare. Especially because the United States would be on a quest to regain the gold medal it failed to win for the first time in 2008, falling 3-1 to Japan in its first Olympic loss since 2000.

All for lack of one vote at the 2005 IOC Assembly when the softball total came out 52-52 with one abstention. Baseball was cut by a 54-50 vote. In 2006, reinstatement went down 46-42 for baseball and 47-43 for softball.

"It leaves an empty hole," Arizona's Mike Candrea, coach of the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic softball teams, says. "When you're involved with it and know how special the opportunity is, you never want to take away a dream kids grow up having. Now college softball is kind of the pinnacle, and you wonder how many are going to see it as kind of a dead-end road. It seemed like kids were more focused on knowing they had a chance to play for their country."

National Pro Fastpitch currently has four teams in the Midwest and East. Players include former UA outfielder Caitlin Lowe and seven other 2008 U.S. Olympians plus several former Sun Devils from ASU's 2008 and 2011 NCAA championship teams.

Baseball and softball are expected to make a combined pitch to the IOC for one opening in 2020. That would require creation of a joint federation and, more significantly, for Major League Baseball to allow its players to participate in the Olympics, a central reason that baseball was dropped.

"It's about who can put forth the best added value to the Games," International Softball Federation President Don Porter says. The IBF, according to Porter, believes that Olympic scheduling could be compressed so big-league players, one or two per team, would not miss extensive time during their season.

Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul are finalists for the 2020 Olympics, and the United States could put up a bid city for 2024 now that revenue-sharing issues with the IOC are resolved. Certainly Japan and the U.S. will lobby for the return of baseball and softball, but other countries have their favorites among other sports on the short list for 2020: karate, squash, roller sports, sports climbing, wakeboard and wushu (Chinese martial arts).

"I think softball is going to get back in," says Cochran, who is on the Amateur Softball Association board of directors. "This is a harsh reality to face, but there's no way they can keep it out forever."

Except that with a limit of 28 sports and roughly 10,500 athletes for the Summer Games, the IOC can essentially leave sports in perpetual limbo.

It took 29 years, six months and 13 days of toil -- Porter remembers exactly -- before the IOC accepted softball for the 1996 Olympics. And golf will return in 2016 after a 108-year absence.

Arizona softball Olympians

1996: Leah O'Brien-Amico (UA). U.S. went 8-1 and won a gold medal.

2000: O'Brien-Amico. U.S. went 7-3, rebounding from three consecutive losses for a gold medal.

2004: Jennie Finch (UA), Tairia Flowers (Tucson), Lovieanne Jung (UA), O'Brien-Amico, Mike Candrea (UA, coach). U.S. went 9-0, outscoring opponents 51-1 and winning a gold medal. This team was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame on Thursday.

2008: Finch, Flowers, Jung, Caitlin Lowe (UA), Candrea, Chuck D'Arcy (now at ASU, assistant coach). U.S. dominated for seven games then needed nine innings to beat Japan before losing in 3-1 in the gold-medal rematch to finish 8-1 and with a silver medal.


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