FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Bob Protexter wore a T-shirt in Fayetteville on Friday that proclaimed "Save Olympic Baseball" on the front, and it wasn't some novelty item he picked up in the Ozarks. He's literally trying to save baseball as an Olympic sport and is the managing director of SaveOlympicBaseball.org.
He's very serious about the topic and would like your help.
As you may know, baseball (and softball) have been eliminated as Olympic sports by the International Olympic Committee. It's too late to have baseball reinstated for the 2012 Summer Games in London, but it's not too late for the 2016 Summer Games that will be staged in Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro or Madrid. Seven sports are vying for two openings in 2016, with baseball and softball competing with karate, squash, golf, roller sports and rugby.
Protexter, 42, is in Fayetteville this week as the head coach of the Sioux City (Iowa) Bancrofts in the Premier Baseball Sophomore Championship. He's the owner and operator of Total Baseball Development and also is the Founder and President of Russian International Baseball with nearly 20 years of international baseball experience. This is a man who cares deeply about baseball as an international sport, both as a game and what it might accomplish on the world stage.
"It's a world connector," he said Friday. "Maybe if more countries played baseball, they wouldn't have wars. It's one more way to connect countries."
Baseball was played as an official Olympic sport in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. It was voted out for a variety of reasons, but one of the main problems seemed to be Major League Baseball's refusal to suspend its season for several weeks in July or August so major league players could play in the Games. The United States was represented by mostly minor leaguers at the 2008 Games, along with Stanford pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the No.1 pick in the 2009 draft.
The International Olympic Committee wants the very best athletes to compete in the Games, and apparently would rather have the very best curlers in the Olympics instead of the second-best baseball players. Or so the argument goes. There's also a matter of TV ratings, because Olympic baseball games with major league stars presumably would attract a greater television audience that Olympic games with unknown minor leaguers. There also have been complaints about the unpredictable length of baseball games.
In any case, Protexter has accepted a call to action and would love to see other baseball fans get involved. There's no time to waste, because decisions about the 2016 Games will be made this summer and fall.
"Participate," he implored. "Buy a 50-cent postcard, put a stamp on it and say, 'Save Olympic Baseball' and send it to Switzerland," he said.
Switzerland is the headquarters for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and you can get the exact address, the names of Olympic officials and everything else you need from Protexter's web site at SaveOlympicBaseball.org. You might get a neat T-shirt as well.
Protexter got involved with Russian baseball when he was still in college in the United States in the 1980s and made his first trip to Moscow in 1990. He said he wanted to help with the development of baseball in Russia, and it led to international baseball experiences in Europe, the Far East and Latin America. He also said he's worked with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners in various roles with international baseball.
Protexter said making baseball an official Olympic sport in 1986 led to the growth of baseball around the world, from 60 countries with national baseball federations in 1986 to more than 125 today.
"That was because baseball got in the Olympics," he said. "So Ghana started baseball, the Soviet Union started baseball, countries that you can't find on a map started baseball," he said.
He predicts 20 or 30 countries will drop baseball as a national sport if baseball is not restored to the Olympics. "It's a travesty," he said.