The delay until 2021 hit every Olympic team hard, but none more so than baseball, which was scheduled to return to the Summer Games for the first time since 2008.
With the entire world affected by the coronavirus, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced on March 24 the Tokyo Games were postponed to the summer of 2021. It has been disappointing to athletes from all sports who have been training hard and are anxious to compete. That’s especially true for the ballplayers — and baseball fans — who have long anticipated the sport’s return to the world’s biggest stage. Also at stake are players’ concerns over whether they can remain competitive at the Olympic-level after a year’s delay.
A lifelong fan of the game, Baylor alumni Rob Winter knows what it feels like to represent USA Baseball. A member of the 1985 USA Junior Olympic team that traveled to Taiwan, Winter competed in several games against the Chinese Taipei team.
Although he no longer plays, Winter said he was disappointed when baseball was nixed from the Summer Olympics after 2008, for both players and fans.
“I think like most baseball players, it’s kind of a dream to play for something more than just a team,” said Winter. “I felt really bad for those players that couldn’t get that opportunity to represent their country.
“Getting to experience and see the culture of the Taiwanese players and where they lived and trained was really cool,” said Winter. “That was just as interesting as the baseball.”
Jason Donald, one of the leaders of Team USA Baseball at the Beijing Olympics, has talked about the significance of the Games and how special they are for athletes. The team won the bronze medal at the 2008 summer games.
Donald told El Paso’s KTSM-TV when they got on the plane and then when they landed was when he realized Olympics are a much different atmosphere. He described his bronze medal as a unique part of his story and baseball career.
For some players who earned the right to travel to Tokyo in 2020, the delay has left them uncertain whether they will still be Olympic caliber ballplayers to make the team again next year.
At 39-years-old, veteran New York Yankees catcher Erik Kratz said he is hopeful he will get another shot to lead the team. Krantz has played in both the major and minor leagues since being drafted in 2002.
In a March interview with Forbes, Krantz said a year and three months ago he couldn’t have told anyone where he’d be today because a lot changes in baseball. In the same way, Krantz also said he didn’t know where he’d be a year and three months from now, though he hopes there will still be a place for him at the 2021 Olympics.
For Jewish Americans Jeremy Wolf and Ian Kinsler, delaying the Olympics means waiting another year to field the first-ever Olympic baseball team for Israel. Wolf and Kinsler are among other Jewish Americans ballplayers who obtained Israel citizenship to represent the country at the 2020 Olympics.
Wolf recently told the LA Times that baseball is not very popular in Israel, and the 2020 Olympic Games would have had a significant influence on kids who could watch it on television.
Wolf also said he shares the same uncertainty about the future as Kratz since Wolf has been out of the minor leagues for a few years. Wolf noted he had been training for the 2020 Olympics after playing in the European qualifying tournament.
Wolf told the Times that in light of the delay, he was trying to figure out what kind of job to get or whether he should change careers. Like so much else in the world right now, Wolf noted the pandemic has left many unanswered questions. For players and fans, the delay has postponed a much anticipated return to baseball’s place on the world competitive stage.