Diplomats get baseball's pitch
Nats help in push for game's return to Summer Olympics
A group of wide-eyed people received an up-close look at big league baseball Wednesday night, milling on the Nationals Stadium field during pre-game workouts, being greeted by members of the Nats, then enjoying a buffet of classic ballpark food in a suite during a game against the Pirates.This wasn't your typical knothole gang, as reported by The Associated Press. They were diplomats from over 70 countries being formally introduced to the game. Baseball 101 was arranged and hosted by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) in concert with the U.S. State Department, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Nationals. The objective: Show the foreign dignitaries what baseball is all about, the sport itself as well as the festivities and passions revolving around it. The aim: To have their voices heard in October, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will decide the fate of baseball in future Olympic Games. The voice of one ambassador was already heard Wednesday night, and it came with a needle for some of the Nationals. "Do something about your pitching, guys," they were egged by Pakistan's Husain Haqqani, already a baseball fan as a former Boston resident who evidently had dual citizenship in Red Sox Nation. "We just need to get more attention to those countries that are not as familiar with the game," IBAF president Harvey Schiller told The Associated Press. "Having them talk about it globally helps us, if not this time, then down the road." Djibouti ambassador Roble Olhaye, the elder statesman of the Washington diplomatic corps, sounded like a quick convert. After delivering the ceremonial first pitch with the first baseball he had ever held, Olhaye said of the prospect of baseball's return to the Olympics, "Why not? We'll add our voice toward that, positively." The IOC had voted four years ago to drop baseball and softball, starting with the Summer Games of 2012. Now, baseball is among seven sports vying for two openings in the lineup for the 2016 Games. Watching Wednesday night's game from three private suites donated by the Nationals, the diplomats munched on corn on the cob, brisket, wraps, hot dogs, coleslaw, deserts, wine and beer. They also hobnobbed with former Major League players who eagerly answered their questions and extolled the game's virtues, including B.J. Surhoff and Bobby Bonilla. Observing the play and the crowd's infectious enthusiasm, the diplomats sounded impressed by a sport in which they previously had little first-hand knowledge. "It's a very popular game, millions of people like it and play it," said Kosovo ambassador Avni Spahiu. "I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be [in the Olympics]."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.