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An Olympic task Darin Van Tassell in Beijing for 2008 games
Darin Van Tassell stands atop the Great Wall of China. Van Tassell is serving as competition director for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. - photo by Special
     When Darin Van Tassell was bypassed for the Georgia Southern head baseball coaching position following Jack Stallings’ 1999 retirement it was a bitter disappointment.        
    After all, Van Tassell was an Eagle through-and-through. A graduate of Statesboro High School, he played at Southern in 1985-89 for Jack Stallings, and was an assistant under Stallings for six seasons (1994-99).
    There was also the family connection. His father, Lane, was a long time professor at Georgia Southern and was the school’s faculty rep to the NCAA when the school reinstated the football program.
    “I’ve seen each of the championship games,” Van Tassell said. “I was in school with Tracy Ham. I caught that fever early.”
    In retrospect not getting the baseball coaching job may have been a blessing.
    Rather than wallow in self pity over not getting his dream job Van Tassell, who is an associate professor in the Center for International Studies and the Dept. of Political Science at Georgia Southern, continued to work in international baseball which he had been introduced to by Stallings.
    As a result Van Tassell, who was inducted into the Georgia Southern Hall of Fame in 2006, has become one of the world’s leading figures in international baseball. He is now the competition director for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The Olympics opened Friday and the baseball competition begins Tuesday.
    In other words, if there was a commissioner of Baseball for the Olympics it would be Van Tassell, who traveled to Beijing last week.
    “Jack (Stallings) was highly involved with the International Baseball Federation,” Van Tassell said. “He got me involved.”
    “I was the commissioner for the 2004 games in Athens,” said Van Tassell. “This (competition director) is a step up.”
    The IBAF is the governing body for Olympic baseball.
    Last October he was the tournament director for the European Olympic qualifier, and this past March was in Beijing when the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers played an exhibition game. He has conducted baseball clinics and coached on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
    Stallings was the hitting coach for the 1984 Olympic team which also included former Cincinnati Reds star Barry Larkin who is coaching the host Chinese team this year.
    Baseball was played in the Olympics in 1984 as an exhibition sport with the United States losing to Japan in the championship game. It did not become a medal sport until the 1992 Olympics. This will mark the final year of baseball and softball as an Olympic sport unless it is reinstated by the International Olympics Committee.
    The IOC will vote on that in 2009, said Van Tassell who is optimistic the sports will win approval. A lot of this is based on the fact the IOC has not filled the two spots with any new sports. If approved baseball would not be a part of 2012 London games, but return in 2016, said Van Tassell.
    The eight teams participating in this year’s Olympics are the United States, Cuba, Japan, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, Canada, Korea and China. The host nation automatically gets one of the eight spots.
    “There’s a fanatical interest in baseball in the Asian and Latin American countries,” said Van Tassell. “It’s off the charts. The Chinese are not very strong, but the other teams are very strong.”
    With the exception of having one college player the American team is made up of players from the Class AAA and Class AA levels. Japan’s players all come from the Japanese professional leagues.
    “The Netherlands and Korea each has seven players from our professional leagues,” said Van Tassell. “Baseball is no longer an American sport.
    It was in 1996, while he was still an assistant under Stallings, Van Tassell had the opportunity to coach the Nicarauguan team. They wound up playing the USA for the bronze medal with the Americans prevailing.
    “Even though you’re playing under a different banner and anthem those were my players,” said Van Tassell when asked what it was like to coach against an American team. “As a professional you put those thoughts aside.
    “It happens a lot in the sports world…you cross those lines.”  
    Van Tassell got a degree in political science from Southern and then earned his masters and doctorate degrees at the University of South Carolina. He has been honored on numerous occasions for his work as an instructor, the most recent coming in 2006 when he was named Wells-Warren Professor of the Year at Georgia Southern.        
    His major academic interests focus upon the study of world politics and the impact of sport on international relations.
    “Sports, music, food, and, some say, art are the global language,” said Van Tassell. “There’s a tremendous amount of interest in sports, and they cut across the language and cultural divides.”

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