Last contested at Beijing 2008, baseball and its sister sport softball have been reinstated to the Olympic programme and will form part of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
We will show you the rules and highlights of baseball in one minute. Whether you are familiar with baseball or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.
In baseball, two teams of nine players seek to score the most ‘runs’ by striking a ball and running round a sequence of bases to reach the ‘home plate’. The teams alternate between batting and fielding, each session of which is called an ‘inning’, switching roles when the fielding team gets three opposing players out.
The fielding team consists of a pitcher, catcher, four infielders and three outfielders. The pitcher throws the ball from a raised mound to the opposing batter standing on the home plate 18.4 metres away. The batter attempts to hit the pitches while the fielders try to get the batter out through various plays.
The team with the most runs after nine innings of alternate batting and fielding wins. If the teams are tied after nine innings, play continues into extra innings until one team has scored more than the other in an equal number of turns at bat.
Baseball was played as a ‘demonstration sport’ at a number of editions of the Games before being adopted as a medal sport at Barcelona 1992. The sport was contested until Beijing 2008, then removed from the programme.
Given the popularity of baseball in Japan, an invitation by the International Olympic Committee for the host country to propose the temporary inclusion of additional events saw the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee propose both men's baseball and women's softball.
The competition will be run by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), the world governing body established in 2013 by the merger of the International Softball Federation and the International Baseball Federation.
A battle between pitcher and batter
The tussle between pitcher and batter is at the heart of baseball. Top-level pitchers attempt to bedevil batters with blazing fastballs that are pinpoint in their accuracy and travelling at up to 160 kilometres per hour, along with many other variations that deploy subtle movement and changes of pace. Pitchers are often substituted for reasons of both fatigue and strategy.
For their part, batters must ascertain what kind of ball the pitcher is throwing, so they can gain a hit to put more runners on base and score a run by making it around the bases back to home plate. A ‘home run’, where the batter is able to circle the bases and reach home safely in one play, usually results from a strike that travels 100 metres or more and clears the outfield fence.
The fielders have the task of ensuring that the powerful hits sent their way by batters end as an out, with spectacular diving catches and powerful throws from deep in the outfield.
Hitting for victory
At Tokyo 2020, teams representing six nations will provide a superb showcase for the sport.
Baseball is extremely popular in the Americas and Asia, and nations from these continents have dominated the medal table. Cuba has won gold at three of the five official stagings, with the USA triumphing at Sydney 2000 and Republic of Korea at Beijing 2008.
Japan captured bronze medals at Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004, while narrowly finishing second to Cuba in the Atlanta 1996 competition. As host nation, the Japanese team's place in the forthcoming Games is assured and fans will be hoping for a strong performance against the sport's global powerhouses.
Shiki Masaoka, who was passionate to promote the sport after its introduction to Japan from the United States. Incidentally, he played the position of catcher. You can find a baseball field dedicated to Masaoka as well as a monument engraved with one of his haiku poems in Tokyo's Ueno Park. It was the educator Kanoe Chuma who gave the sport its Japanese name of yakyu.