Yankees' ex-Olympians hopeful for IOC's reinstatement of baseballBronze medalists Jayson Nix and Hiroki Kuroda both relished Olympic experience
The International Olympic Committee announced last Wednesday that baseball and softball are on their shortlist of potential additions for the 2020 Games, with a vote in September to determine whether America's pastime beats out wrestling and squash and returns after a three-Olympiad absence.
For many athletes, participating in the Olympics is the ultimate thrill; as many say, there's nothing more prideful than the right to represent your country, and there's no victory sweeter than one that sees your national anthem played at the end.
Jayson Nix is one of two current Yankees with that Olympic experience, having played for the United States team that won bronze in Beijing in 2008.
"It was a great experience to play in the Olympics; there's really nothing you can compare it to," Nix said. "I guess now we have the World Baseball Classic, which is similar, but the whole Olympic experience is very special."
However, Nix is, as of now, one of the last to have that experience, as the IOC voted baseball out of the 2012 Games in London and later extended that exclusion to the coming 2016 Olympiad in Rio - and, as he alluded to, the WBC, despite its international flair, is a lot different, if anything because of the timing.
"With the WBC, you're able to theoretically send your best players because it's in the spring, In the Olympics, you can't really do that because it's during the season. I don't really think they have much in common in that regard."
Nix, for one, is lucky that he was able to represent his country at the time; he had made his Major League debut for with the Colorado Rockies earlier in 2008, but was at Triple-A Colorado Springs at the time the Olympic team was chosen and thus was eligible.
The then-25-year-old had a lot to smile about that year, both with his MLB debut and his strong season at Triple-A (.303, 17 homers, 51 RBI, .964 OPS in 67 games), but the chance to wear the red, white, and blue in China trumped them all.
"To be able to represent your country is just amazing," Nix said.
But as Nix alluded to, the restriction of not being able to send the "best" isn't necessarily true in any other country, something that makes the 2008 squad's bronze medal, and especially the gold won by Roy Oswalt-led squad in Sydney in 2000, that much more amazing.
Several future Major Leaguers have been on the Olympic team - from Barry Larkin and Will Clark in 1984, to guys like Jason Giambi and R.A. Dickey in the 1990s to the 2008 team with Stephen Strasburg and Dexter Fowler, among others - but none of them had much more than a cup of coffee if anything in "The Show" at the time.
Japan, meanwhile, is one of those nations where the best go to play in the Olympics no matter the season, and Hiroki Kuroda is proof of that. Back in 2004, Kuroda made 21 starts for the Hiroshima Carp of the NPB Central League, but he left midway through to head to Athens and notched two wins out of the bullpen en route to Japan winning the bronze medal.
Everyone on that Japanese team - including Kuroda and seven other future Major Leaguers - played in NPB at the time. Kuroda was later selected to Japan's 2006 WBC team as well (although he withdrew because of injury), and he agreed with Nix that the Classic is great in its own right, but not the same.
"Playing in the Olympics was a great experience for me; we have the World Baseball Classic now, but I don't know what to say about that, because it's a lot different," Kuroda said through his translator.
Many of those who would potentially suit up to play for Team USA, Team Japan, or any other nation in 2020 are likely not even out of high school just yet, but Nix for one is hopeful that come September, they'll at least have the chance to live out a dream.
"The whole Olympic experience is special, like I said, so hopefully baseball returns and more people get to have it."