By Leslie Heaphy
Excitement ran high when the United States was chosen to host the 2018 Women’s Baseball World Cup for the first first time. The venue was Viero, Florida, in August 2018. A wonderful facility, but as it turned out, a tough time of year to host in Florida. The temperatures soared and the storms came every afternoon. Games were delayed or postponed every day, making the play of the women even harder. The ladies who came out and played joined the pioneers of the past, to continue to promote the game for women.
Lots of work by many groups and individuals brought the world cup to the United States, the cradle of baseball. Teams came from around the world to compete for the title of World Champion. An exciting time time for all teams and their fans, but sadly things did not pan out as expected or hoped for, especially for Team USA who finished a disappointing fourth.
For the small number of fans who attended the baseball was amazing to watch. Game after game gave the fans something to cheer for. Unfortunately, the press did not come out and word did not spread that the games were in Florida. As a result, even locally many people did not realize what was happening in their own back yard. History was being made in front of far fewer fans than was expected.
While one could easily focus on the negatives the surrounding the lack of fan support and news coverage, the weather and the cost, by doing so we would miss the real reason all these ladies came from all over the world. They came to play baseball. The tournament started with teams from twelve countries. Some like Japan, Canada, Australia, and the United States had long baseball traditions while others like the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong are much newer to the women’s game. Each game quickly became a part of history, offering something new and exciting for those who were there to see.
Before talking about the games themselves, one needs to look at what it took for teams to even make it to the World Cup. Held every two years, the World Cup brings together the best and brightest, all hoping to take home the title that Japan has held more than any other country. Japan was once again the favorite, but the United States was hoping to use the home field advantage to bring the title back to America.
By the end of the tournament Japan stood atop the leader board once again. Host United States came in a disappointing fourth behind Chinese Taipei and Canada. Every team won at least two games except the Netherlands, who had the strongest contingent of fans present to support them. In the end Japan finished undefeated at 9-0, while the United States, Canada, and Chinese Taipei ended with 6-3 records.
The individual accomplishments were amazing. I think one needs to begin with Ayami Sato winning the MVP for the third time in row, dominating the game for over six years. Her teammate Rina Tamiyama struck out nine and pitched six scoreless innings to put her name in the history books. New comer Megan Baltzell showed off her power for the USA while Nicole Luchanski hit for consistency for Team Canada. These were just a few of the 100s of exciting plays on display every day.
The World Cup was an opportunity to show the world how much women’s baseball has grown. What better place to do that than in the United States where baseball began. The United States national team showcased the best players from across the country. Some would be new to the fans and others were returning veterans. While the play on the field turned out to be spectacular, there were few there to witness the exciting play. Fans and players were once again shown that baseball in America is still not ready for female players. The fact that the World Cup took until 2018 to be held in the United States tells a great deal about how baseball for women has struggled in America. There are professional leagues in Japan and strong organizations in Canada and Australia, but still baseball struggles for female players in America. Though the history is long and filled with amazing accomplishments few baseball fans in America today could tell you much about women’s accomplishments. Before there was Malaika Underwood there was Lizzie Murphy. Before there was Tamera Holmes there was Toni Stone.
Each story of today has a story from the past to support it.
As we look back on this tournament and all the incredible accomplishments, we can be excited for the future. Twelve teams were present, but there were others not yet ready to play. Players were retiring, but new players were emerging. Japan won again but they were seriously challenged and the World Cup in 2020 is something to be really excited about. Two years will mean a lot of changes and growth for the women’s game and we should all be excited by the changes we have seen so far and what that says about the future of the game. Mark your calendars now to plan on attending the 2020 games.
But remember, in the meantime, there is a great deal of women’s baseball being played all over the world and we are witnesses to this great history. As we close out 2018 there is a new tournament being played in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to honor former AAGPBL player Shirley Burkovich, and a new professional women’s league is developing in Australia.
So, while the World Cup may not have delivered everything we expected, the future of women’s baseball world wide is bright and the 2018 World Cup was another milestone along the way to seeing women’s baseball being accepted and played world wide. Japan has a lot to teach the other teams around the world about how to promote and support women’s baseball. Hopefully, we are all listening.
Leslie Heaphy is an associate professor of history at Kent State University at Stark. She writes regularly about the Negro Leagues and women’s baseball . She can be reached at email@example.com.