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Softball on a baseball field doesn't faze Olympians: 'You can’t even tell the difference'

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TOKYO – These are “the made-for-television Olympics,” a line organizers have repeated as a justification for holding the Tokyo Games without spectators.

Bad news for those in charge: one of the first events broadcast looks, well, odd on TV.

As softball continued for the second day at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, some of those watching from home kept commenting about the awkwardness of a softball field being constructed within a baseball stadium.

For example, the pitcher’s circle is in front of the traditional mound. Second base sits in the middle of the infield. And the outfield wall is well in front of the baseball fences.

The good news? Those playing there don’t seem to care much. After the United States beat Canada 1-0 on Thursday, shortstop Amanda Chidester – who drove in the game’s lone run in and went 2-for-4 – called the field “immaculate.”

“I’ve seen that question come up quite a bit,” Chidester said of playing softball in a baseball venue. “As a player that’s played on both … they’ve done everything to make it as softball-field-like as possible.

Australia and Italy play on the converted softball field at Fukishima Azoma Stadium on Thursday
Australia and Italy play on the converted softball field at Fukishima Azoma Stadium on Thursday

“To be able to get into the batter’s box and have it done the way they’re doing it on this field, it’s amazing. They’ve done an incredible job to make it feel like a top-level softball field.”

U.S. coach Ken Eriksen agreed. It may look weird, but plays just fine.

“It’s amazing, because television shows the lines for the baseball on the turf, but the turf is fantastic and the field is so safe,” U.S. softball coach Ken Eriksen said. “It’s really probably one of the best venues we’ve played in.”

Eriksen expects more of the same at Yokohama Baseball Stadium, where the team has already practiced. Pool play will continue there Saturday.

“We don’t really think of it as a baseball field,” he said. “They’ve done a great job with the softball markings and everything else.”

With baseball and softball in the Olympic program for the first time since 2008, Tokyo organizers said playing both sports in the same venues represented a “new cost-effective model” designed to make the sports more attractive to the International Olympic Committee. Converting an existing stadium’s field of play from baseball to softball and vice versa was brought forward by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), according to the WBSC’s media guide.

Organizers said Fukishima Azoma Stadium could seat up to 14,300 spectators, while Yokhoma was slated to welcome 34,000. The pandemic dashed those plans.

Monica Abbott, who fired seven scoreless innings against Canada and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, has played professionally in Japan for more than a decade. Fans not being there, she said, is the biggest downside to playing in a baseball stadium.

“That would be the intimacy, the up-close-experience that the fans get at a softball stadium versus a softball stadium,” she said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have fans, so as far as the surface, the game, the fence, the markings have (all) stayed true. Especially down the lines, they have the fence all the way around, so you don’t have that extra foul territory that baseball stadiums have when a softball team plays in a baseball stadium.”

For Chidester, it’s all the same.

“I wouldn’t even know – you can’t even tell the difference out there,” she said. “It’s just great to be out there and be able to play the game.”

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 Olympics: Softball on a baseball field doesn't faze Olympians