You may or may not know that my father, Fidel Catro, once played baseball and went as far as a tryout with the Baltimore Orioles. While his career took a different path, he did instill in me a love for the game — and that love has inspired me to work hard to help propel the growth of the game globally.
Since baseball and softball are a national passion in Cuba, I played when I was young and took an interest in the development of the sport while in medical school. My personal commitment has led me to advocate for its growth internationally and I ended up serving in various positions in the International Baseball Federation.
Today, I’m a proud member of the World Baseball Softball Confederation team that is pitching to get baseball and softball back in the Olympic Games — our greatest global celebration of humanityand the key to inspiring young people everywhere to take up a sport.
With 65 million players worldwide, baseball and softball ranks as the largest sport not on the Olympic programme. And from my perspective, it’s a game that belongs in the Games because like the Olympic Movement, it unites people across all the borders and boundaries that divide us.
It’s a game anyone, anywhere can play, regardless of age, gender, social standing, disability, cultural or political position. It’s a worldwide game already— played in more than 100 nations—but it needs the inspiration of the Olympic stage to carry it to the every nation on earth.
In London last summer, the Olympic Games drew a global television audience of 4.5 million people. That’s two-thirds of the world’s population—and that’s the kind of exposure that can help accelerate the growth of baseball and softball into the next great global game.
What’s beautiful about the baseball/softball combination we’re pitching to the International Olympic Committee is the balance between men and women in our tournament. We’re planning two six-day tournaments running back-to-back in a single venue featuring eight teams each, all of whom have to survive a rigorous global qualification process. With the men playing baseball the first week of the Games, and the women playing softball the second week, our sport helps the IOC achieve one of its key goals for the Olympic Movement — full gender equity.
Softball, which has grown equally strong in the wake of baseball around the world, is unique in its empowerment of women everywhere. Today, you’ll find women playing softball across Europe, in the Muslim countries in the Middle East, on the dusty fields of Africa, and in the small villages of China.
As we strive to demonstrate the added values our game can bring to the Olympics, we’re emphasizing an established pattern of growth — driven by the elite professional leagues all over the world — through baseball academies, coaching clinics, even team and league management seminars being conducted now in countries where the sport is just beginning to grow. Over the last eight years, the International Baseball Federation and its pro partners conducted 140 baseball and softball development programs in 54 countries. The global growth of the game is underway and is inevitable, but in partnership with the Olympic Movement it could be accelerated greatly—for the benefit of all.
When baseball and softball put down their roots in a country, they become a family-driven, socially rich fan-phenomenon with brand loyalty that lasts a lifetime and is passed from generation to generation—because kids find it so easy to play.
The culture that develops around baseball provides sustained traditions that strengthen all sports within a community. Baseball and softball are a lifestyle for millions, a fixation that is deeply personal and deeply rewarding.
Perhaps more importantly, the game teaches the incredible lessons of team play. Like the Olympic Movement, it places the values of excellence, respect and friendship on a high pedestal—and it teaches that we can achieve far more together than we can separately.
If we succeed in our mission to get baseball and softball back in the Olympics, you can be sure that when the tournament starts at the 2020 Games, you’ll find me – like every Cuban around the world – cheering madly for “Nuestro Equipo.”
This article by Antonio Castro first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl Heinz-Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Mr. Heinz-Huba.