Baseball and softball were last part of the Olympic docket in 2008 in Beijing, and they were removed from the program for the 2012 Olympics in London. Baseball and softball ultimately shared the distinction of being the first sports excised from the Olympics since polo at the 1936 Games.
Paul Seiler, the chief executive officer of USA Baseball, said the news from Japan is encouraging.
"It's still a process. There are five sports being recommended, and baseball/softball is one sport with two disciplines," said Seiler. "It's a journey. But this is the next step, and it's a positive one. These are all kind of mile-markers that we've got as a sport, but we're quietly and cautiously encouraged. You could even say we're optimistic. This was good news, but you don't want to get too high or too low."
Japan, two-time champions of the World Baseball Classic, has made the request to restore baseball and softball for its Olympics, and it will be in pursuit of its first gold medal. Cuba has won the gold in baseball in three of the five Olympics in which it was contested, and the United States has won once.
The script is a little bit different in softball. The United States took home the gold in three of the four Olympics in which softball was played, and Japan was crowned champion in 2008. USA won silver in the only year it didn't win the gold, and Japan also has a softball silver medal to its credit.
"Baseball is in the DNA of the Japanese people, and that's born out of their success in things like the World Baseball Classic," said Seiler. "And in softball too. They're the defending gold medalists in the sport of softball. Does it help baseball and softball that Tokyo is hosting in 2020? Absolutely. This is a sport that is revered by the people and honored by the people there, and it's a part of their culture. We're hoping that these are all things that will help put our sport in a positive part of the conversation."
Prior to becoming an official sport, baseball was contested as a demonstration several times. The first time came in 1904, and it was also part of the Olympics in 1912, 1936, 1956, 1964 and 1984. Cuba did not participate in 1984 in Los Angeles due to a boycott of the Olympic Games.
Now, with 11 months to go before the IOC makes a decision regarding baseball and softball, there's not much to do except wait and hope. USA Baseball will continue with business as usual in fielding teams for other international tournaments, and it will do anything it can to return baseball to the Olympics.
"What you can do is be an active participant with the organizing committee and with the IOC to best position yourself for possible inclusion," said Seiler. "If the IOC and the organizing committee asks if you can do this or that with the size of your rosters or with timing or whatever it may be, you have to be an open and active and willing participant in putting your sport in the best possible position."