WBSC Player Summit at IOC: 350 players attend Olympic House meeting. WBSC

The two institutions organised the first virtual meeting of officials and players ahead of the return of baseball and softball to the Olympic programme in Los Angeles in 2028. Experiences were shared and possible reforms were discussed. Baseball5 will also make its debut at the upcoming Youth Olympic Games.

The meeting was virtual and brought together 350 players from 44 countries. It took place at the Olympic House in Lausanne (Switzerland). They included experienced players like Monica Abbott, Timothy Atherton, Randolph Oduber, Ayako Rokkaku, Maria Soto, Vanessa Mui and Giovanni Pantaleoni. Riccardo Fraccari, President of the WBSC, and Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), were also present. They sent a taped message. "I hope you will be able to attend the next summit in person," Bach said.

Bach advised the athletes to "focus on their next Olympic participation in Los Angeles". He said that the debut of baseball5 at the Youth Olympic Games was already on the horizon. He also said that its inclusion in the 2032 Games in Brisbane was possible.

WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari was in charge of the evaluation of the role of the athletes and the people in charge of the institutions. He expressed his confidence in the IOC to "lead towards a future of excellence, integrity and inclusion. This summit is a catalyst for change, innovation and unity."

One of the world's best softball pitchers, Monica Abbott, was there. GETTY IMAGES
One of the world's best softball pitchers, Monica Abbott, was there. GETTY IMAGES

Ideas were exchanged and several reforms were put on the table for consideration. The importance of the Athletes' Commission as a key link between the athletes and the WBSC was emphasised. It represents future, current and recently retired baseball/softball athletes. 

The members are elected by their peers and during their term of office (4 years) they can act as members of the WBSC Executive Board, as members of the Divisional Boards and as members of the Presidential Council. The vision and experience necessary to understand where baseball and softball are headed was demonstrated by the elite athletes who participated.

Monica Abbott, one of the best softball pitchers of her generation, is a four-time World Champion. She led the United States to silver medals at the Beijing and Tokyo Olympics. In 2016, she made headlines when she signed with the Scrap Yard Dawgs, becoming the highest-paid female athlete in North America. "As an athlete, the opportunity to sign a big contract is almost unbelievable. You dream about these things coming true when you're young. It was really a big step for me to represent not only softball, but women's athletics. She spoke about equal opportunities for women in the sport. 

Timothy Atherton was playing in Australia as a teenager. He was there too. GETTY IMAGES
Timothy Atherton was playing in Australia as a teenager. He was there too. GETTY IMAGES

The experience of Timothy Atherton, who signed a professional contract outside Australia as a teenager, illustrates the changes that can take place in an athlete's life. His career was abruptly cut short by a car accident. "In 2017, I was hit by a truck days before my signing with the Milwaukee Brewers (of Major League Baseball, MLB). I just have a deep love for the game and that's what kept me playing all this time," he said. 

Commitment, loyalty, hard work and many other virtues were mentioned at the meeting as necessary to grow in this elite sport. Another of the skills needed to achieve goals is mental work and the need to strengthen this state. Those present agreed that these aspects should be emphasised in order to overcome "failures".

Maria Soto, the captain of the Venezuelan team in the women's softball tournament at the Beijing Olympics, was blunt. "Sport has made me the woman I am. I achieved my dream of being an Olympic athlete. I had the privilege of helping others. "There's no limit to what you can achieve if you seize every opportunity," she said. 

Randolph Oduber is now retired and coaching young players. GETTY IMAGES
Randolph Oduber is now retired and coaching young players. GETTY IMAGES

Budget control, time management by organisers and resource management were discussed. "For event organisers, budget control is always a challenge. You have to manage limited resources to get the job done. My experience as a participant can provide ideas on how to improve events."

Also missing is the process by which people who have been involved in the sport seek to give back on a personal level what it has given them. That is another way that is not missing and that some of the people who continue to be involved in the future growth are doing. There have been examples, but the one that stands out is that of Oduber. 

He retired as a player, but his transition took him back to baseball as an entrepreneur and on-field instructor. He founded the Dream Glove Company with a former teammate. He shares his baseball knowledge with younger players. "It is not easy, but the company is working. One of my goals has always been to give back to the community, not just on the field, but mentally. We send players to college. We help them and give them mental and physical training. And it's great!" 

The final comment left a very sweet and hopeful feeling. It came from Giovanni Pantaleoni, a former Olympian. He has joined the WBSC staff. "I head the development department. Basically what we are trying to do is put the tools on the table so that the national federations can make baseball, softball and Baseball5 relevant in their countries," he said. For Giovanni, the best part of working with the WBSC is giving back hope. He said: "I think the opportunity to give back the Olympic dream to our athletes is the best thing."