Time is right to dump softball

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

BEIJING – Perhaps someday soon, a proper statue will be erected in Surrey, B.C., to celebrate the Olympic accomplishment of native daughter Melanie Matthews, she of Canadian softball fame.

Matthews did the near impossible in Beijing on Thursday – she scored a run against the United States of America.

It was unconventional and normally not much to brag about. She reached first on a walk, went to second on an error, third on an illegal pitch and home via sacrifice fly.

Still, two Olympics going and this was just the second run scored on the American softball team. They won gold in Greece by a combined score of 51-1. Thus far in China, it's 14-1.

A small monsoon hit the Fengtai Softball Complex soon after Matthews crossed home plate, causing the postponement of the game with Canada leading 1-0. This is the closest the U.S. has come to losing an Olympic softball game since Sept. 21, 2000.

When play resumes Friday, Canada will either pull off a monumental upset or wind up getting crushed. The outcome may determine whether the sport is played in the Olympics again.

The International Olympic Committee has slated softball for elimination after Beijing as part of what it calls a necessary paring down of the number of games in the Games.

"We're devastated by the decision," catcher Stacey Nuveman said.

A lot of Americans are. Not many other countries appear to have noticed.

Save Our Softball is the feel-good rallying cry these days, a nice, pleasant, politically correct battle to fight.

But unless the rest of the world actually starts winning games – let alone scoring runs and getting hits – against the Americans, what does anyone honestly think should happen?

If this is another Athens, the Americans bulldozing everyone en route to gold, how can anyone claim this is a sport worth keeping in the Olympics?

It's nice that everyone in the States loves our softball team – great athletes, terrific people and better role models. It's a sport for strong women – not girls. The Jennie Finch All-Stars have been an unqualified success, building up the sport domestically to the point where our team is simply too good for its own good.

Once upon a time, the U.S. actually lost games. Not very often, but occasionally. At the 2000 Sydney Games, the Americans again took gold, but not before dropping three games.

Since that point, the U.S. is 64-3 in international play.

That's more exhibition than competition.

This isn't the Dream Team of men's basketball, raising world competition with its brilliance. The gap in softball is widening. Twelve years after Michael and Magic, the U.S. men's basketball team lost three times and settled for bronze.

Twelve years after the first softball game in the Olympics and the U.S. team opened with an 11-zip no-hitter of Venezuela, a game stopped after five innings due to a mercy rule. Next was a 3-0 shutout of Australia, a bronze medal favorite, which struck out 13 times without recording a hit.

The massive media coverage and corporate sponsorship the U.S. team has generated has been a boon to the sport in America, which is why our team continues to strengthen as the next generation of stars comes along. The rest of the world hasn't been able to keep up.

For all the goodwill that the smiling faces produce, that isn't the purpose of the Olympics. They are supposed to be about bringing the world's best athletes together to compete in its most popular games.

It isn't the IOC's job to care about sporting role models for young girls or feel-good stories of female athletes or budding popularity in Middle America. If that happens, fine.

While most Americans would gladly choose badminton or modern pentathlon or bribe-taking – all favored pursuits of the IOC – for elimination instead of softball, that's a myopic view of the situation.

Softball is played in 140 nations. Only one seems to do it consistently well. Too few others appear either committed or competent.

If that doesn't change here, the possibility of a miracle reversal will rightfully be over.

Friday, after drying out from the monsoon, Canada and the U.S. will re-engage. Perhaps Melanie Matthews will score another run, get a hit or, as impossible as it seems, lead Canada to an upset victory.

It would be the best thing that could happen for Americans.

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