America’s favorite pastime returns to the Tokyo Olympics this year. Despite the sport’s massive worldwide following, baseball has only sporadically appeared at the Olympics. The game finally received Olympic sport status in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics, but it was dropped again in the 2008 games.
Baseball’s sister sport softball debuted at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but was also dropped in 2008. Now both sports are making their return in Tokyo. Here’s everything you need to know
How do baseball and softball work at the Olympics?
Baseball and softball will both run in a modified tournament format. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), the international governing body established in 2013 to merge the International Softball Federation and the International Baseball Federation, will run the competitions.
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Each tournament — one for baseball and one for softball — features six teams. The softball tournament will consist of a single round-robin among the six teams, followed by a bronze medal game and a gold medal game for a total of 17 games.
The baseball tournament opens with a group round-robin with two pools of three teams. Each team will play the other two teams in the pool once, with a total of six games played in the group round-robin.
The group round-robin is followed by a knockout round of 10 total games, wherein the first three games feature teams that finished in the same position within their pools (A1 vs. B1, A2 vs. B2, A3 vs. B3). The loser of the A3 vs. B3 game is eliminated, and the rest of the competition ensues in a double-elimination format until there is one team left in each of the winners and losers brackets. Those two teams play the gold medal game.
Do MLB players participate in the Olympics?
The MLB has never halted or interrupted its season for the Olympics, and MLB officials still seem reluctant to do so.
Shortly after the announcement was made that baseball would appear in the Olympics, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said it was unlikely that MLB athletes would play, as it would mean that some MLB teams would play short-handed or the league would shut down for two weeks during the Olympics. The latter half of MLB’s season is the most crucial, as it sets up which teams will make it to the playoffs and ultimately the World Series, so it’s even harder to justify players taking time away from their teams.
In 2008, the last year baseball was seen at the Olympics, the US roster was filled by minor league players and one college player.
So far, it seems unlikely that any big leaguers will travel to Japan.
When and where can I watch Olympic baseball and softball?
Both tournaments will begin at the Azuma Stadium in Fukushima, with softball on July 21, 2021, and baseball on July 28, 2021. The finals will continue at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, with the softball final on July 27 and the baseball final on Aug. 7.
The Olympics are back on NBC, with a 24/7 stream online if you verify you’re a cable subscriber. NBCSports Gold will have a dedicated Olympics package — pay an upfront fee and you’ll be able to watch anywhere, uninterrupted by ads.
Tokyo is 16 hours ahead of the West Coast, so watching live should get a good spread of events. It’s a little trickier on the East Coast, where you may have to rely on highlights.
The BBC will cover the games on TV, radio and online in the UK, with more on Eurosport, a pay-TV channel. The time difference there is 8 hours, so you’ll have to get up very early in the morning to watch live.
In Australia, the Seven Network will spread free-to-air coverage over Channel Seven, 7Mate and 7Two. It’s a good year for watching Down Under, with Sydney only an hour ahead of Tokyo.