DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – Almost all of Paul Seiler’s pictures and other personal items sit on the floor of his office at USA Baseball.

They include a photo of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and another of the squad that finished second in the 1999 Pan American Games. It’s almost as if Seiler, the executive director and CEO of the governing body, recently moved in.

Well, he did – nearly a year ago.

“We’ve been kind of busy,” he said with a smile.

No kidding. In the past 10 days, USA Baseball hired Bob Watson, Major League Baseball’s chief disciplinarian, as general manager for all professional teams through the 2008 Beijing Games, and also broke ground on a new national training center.

Oh, and a national team of top collegiate players completed a 20-game summer tour with an 11-game winning streak by sweeping a doubleheader against Nicaragua in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

None of the work so far has anything to do with getting baseball back in the Olympics. About a month ago, the IOC voted it out of the 2012 Games, along with softball.

“We were more disappointed than we were demoralized,” Seiler said. “But we’ve got a lot going on in the next five or six years anyway, and then in 09, we get a chance to make a presentation to get it reinstated for 2016.”

Of course, the United States’ baseball team didn’t even qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, losing in a qualifying tournament to Mexico and failing to defend its gold medal from Sydney. That team was led by Hall of Famer Tom Lasorda, who bemoans the fact that his beloved game won’t be around for the London Games.

“I’m still disappointed about it, I don’t know why it happened,” he said. “I have never read a reason why baseball and softball were voted out. Why would they take baseball and softball out of the Olympics?”

Yet the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn’t appear too worried about getting baseball back in the Games. Shortly after the sport was axed, CEO Jim Scherr told The Associated Press that Major League Baseball’s unwillingness to let its players participate in the Olympics, combined with ongoing steroid and drug-testing issues, made it an easy target for the IOC.

Other things working against baseball included the high cost of building stadiums for the Olympics, then finding a use for the stadiums once the games are over; the qualification process; and the lack of support for the sport in Europe.

Even while Scherr conceded there was a stigma with having an American-born sport pushed out of the Olympic program, he pointed to some changes that needed to be made.

“Unless they work on all those issues, it would be really hard for the USOC to join there, regardless of what we want to do,” he said.

Seiler acknowledges these problems, but still believes baseball was unfairly punished.

“I’m sure I’m a little biased, but if you take all 28 summer Olympic sports and hold them up to the same criteria, I find it hard to believe that baseball and softball come in 27th and 28th,” he said.

But as Seiler said, USA Baseball has plenty to worry about besides the Olympics, beginning with the inaugural World Baseball Classic. The World Cup-style tournament organized by Major League Baseball and its players’ association begins March 3, with 16 nations competing over eight days in the United States, Asia and Latin America.

USA Baseball will put the team together, led again by Watson. He has had a hand in selecting a roster for the past two Olympics, in addition to the qualifying tournaments.

“Baseball is my passion and my life, and I’d like to see us be as dominant as possible, as you can imagine,” Watson said. “For years now, the Cubans have dominated the international side of things. In 2000, when we won the gold and actually beat them to do it, that really was a highlight of my baseball life and career.”

And he isn’t too optimistic about the sport returning to the Olympics, since getting the top major leaguers involved would be nearly impossible.

“Can you see our ownership shutting down baseball, like hockey did, for two weeks for guys to go play in the Olympics?” Watson said. “There’s all kind of obstacles, but if somebody was creative, there could be some answers.”

That’s what Lasorda hopes for. Now a special adviser to Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, the 77-year-old Lasorda is in his 56th season with the organization. He spent 21 seasons as manager and won two World Series titles, and he considers his gold medal the highlight of his career.

“It’s bigger than the World Series, it’s bigger than my 50-plus years with the Dodgers and it’s bigger than Major League Baseball,” Lasorda said. “All of America was happy, and I did something for my country.

“That’s the way I felt, and then to have baseball taken away, it’s so very discouraging.”



On the Net:

USA Baseball: http://www.usabaseball.com

AP-ES-08-12-05 1418EDT


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