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A final swing
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Most of the baseball tickets for the Beijing Games have sold out and sports officials see this as ammunition to bolster their claims that the sport should never have been axed from the Olympic program in the first place.

Baseball, and softball, will make their final appearances at the Olympics this summer after they were voted out by a panel of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), though the possibility for their reinstatement after London 2012 remains.

Apart from those tickets that will not be released until just prior to the opening ceremony on Aug 8, most have already been purchased or reserved, a trend baseball has rarely experienced at previous editions of the Games.

The sport's newfound popularity could not have come at a better time for fans and organizers. Recently, stories of drug scandals (in Major League Baseball) and defections (from the Cuban team) have plagued the sport, which has also suffered at the Games from a lack of star power as MLB teams often refuse to release their players as the Olympics conflicts with their season.

What happens at Beijing's Olympic Wukesong baseball field this August may change the sport's fortunes as officials hunt for a way to get it reinstated by as early as 2016.

Ensuring a packed stadium is a good start, they say.

"We have to make sure that the tournament here in Beijing is very successful because the eyes of the IOC members are going to be on softball as well as baseball," said Harvey Schiller on the day he was elected president of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) last year.

Schiller and his colleagues will not forget the day when baseball got given the boot by a secret IOC vote during its 2005 session in Singapore. Members voted 54-50 in favor of making baseball the first sport to be eliminated from the Olympics since polo in 1936.

Since then, baseball officials have been lobbying IOC members to have a re-think. However, in another vote in February 2006, it lost again by a similar margin.

Schiller, a former executive director of the US Olympic Committee and head of Turner Sports and YankeeNets, says that strong ticket sales in Beijing will not be enough to save the sport.

One of the problems is MLB's lack of cooperation, a trend that relegates baseball's status at the Olympics to a secondary competition, similar to what has happened in the past with basketball and soccer.

This has ruffled many feathers especially in the Cuba camp, a three-time Olympic champion, which has many elite payers in the United States.

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