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Players Pay No Mind To Olympic Softball On Baseball Field

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(Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)

Casual softball fans who tuned in for the first two days of Olympic action may have been surprised and disoriented upon seeing that the field was not designed for softball.

Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium is, well, a baseball stadium. And so is Yokohama Stadium, which will host the rest of the Olympic tournament after the opening ceremony. The bases are in the middle of the infield, the dirt-colored infield turf is in the shallow outfield and the temporary fence is in the middle of the outfield.

Temporary fencing was also added around the field in foul territory, plus bench seating well in front of the permanent dugouts. Some observers commented that it looked like the celebrity softball game that was part of the Major League Baseball all-star festivities, pointing it out as yet another example of softball being treated as a little sister to baseball and the sexist implications of that viewpoint.

More avid professional softball followers have seen such setups before. In the 2019 National Pro Fastpitch season, three of the league’s six teams played at Minor League Baseball stadiums, resulting in similarly confusing field orientations.

In order to get back on the Olympic calendar, though, this was the most effective arrangement. The International Olympic Committee considers baseball and softball to be a single sport, so sharing venues made sense from its perspective. And the players themselves, for the most part, are just grateful to be playing on such a big stage.

Team USA’s Amanda Chidester, who drove in the only run in the Americans’ victory over Canada on Thursday, called the field in Fukushima “immaculate” and told USA Today that “they’ve done everything to make it as softball-field-like as possible.” Her head coach, Ken Ericksen, called it “one of the best venues we’ve played in.”

Jenny Topping, a gold medalist for Team USA at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, played professionally in Japan for three years. She posted a statement on Facebook this week emphasizing how well the Japanese league treats its players, particularly American players, and the energy and resources Japan puts into investing in softball.

Danielle O’Toole, a pitcher for Team Mexico who has played professionally in both the NPF and Athletes Unlimited, also weighed in. She posted a brief Twitter thread on Monday saying the field situation doesn’t feel like an inequality issue to her and the players should remember how fortunate they are to be competing in the Olympics at all.

While not an Olympian, Haylie Wagner has played her fair share of softball on fields designed for baseball. She pitched in the NPF for the now-defunct Pennsylvania Rebellion, who played in a baseball stadium outside of Pittsburgh, before moving on to the Chicago Bandits and Athletes Unlimited. Wagner echoed Chidester and O’Toole in saying she doesn’t really notice the field quirks while she’s playing.

“It’s not ideal, obviously. But it doesn’t really faze me,” Wagner said. “With the Olympics, that was the only way to get softball and baseball in together. Yes, we would love to play on a full-dirt field or a full-turf field, but it’s not a big difference.”

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