MONTPELLIER — The final year of the decade marked a series of firsts for women’s baseball in France, which not only formed its first-ever national team of female players, but also hosted — and then won — the inaugural Women’s European Baseball Championship.
Little wonder that Le Baseblog chose Les Bleues as our 2019 ‘Team of the Year.’
But now that 2020 has arrived, the players will have little chance to rest on their laurels. Why? Because looming on the horizon is an even bigger challenge: the WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup, which kicks off Sept. 11 in Monterrey, in northern Mexico.
It will be the 9th such tournament since the initial Women’s World Cup took place in 2004, but the first for France, a fact not lost on players like pitcher Camille Foucher, who went 2-0 in the European Championship — winning both the opener and the title game (against the Netherlands) — and struck out 9.
“What began in 2019 is a wonderful story, and we’re happy to be part of it,” says Foucher, who was recently voted Normandy’s ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ by the radio station Tendance Ouest.
“The whole team realizes what an opportunity this has been and now we’re hoping to be chosen again for the world championships in Mexico,” Foucher adds.
The person making those decisions will be Lahcène Benhamida, who was named just last month as the new manager of the Les Bleues and will be holding tryouts on Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, in Montpellier and Rouen respectively. Benhamida replaces André Lachance.
Gauging the competition
France is not the only country making its first appearance in the 12-team tournament. This will also the first Women’s Baseball World Cup for China, the Philippines and host Mexico. All four teams are unranked.
Also set to compete in Monterrey are the national teams from the Netherlands and Cuba, both of which were issued wild-card invitations by Executive Board of the organizing body, the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation).
The clear favorite going into the tournament is Japan, which not only won the last World Cup (2018), but also won the five before that — in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. The only other country with a World Cup trophy is the United States, which won the event twice, in 2004 and 2006. The U.S. team comes into this year’s tournament ranked 4th in the world.
Rounding out the field of participants are the national teams from Canada, the runner-up in both the 2008 and 2016 events; Australia, which silver medaled in 2018; Chinese Taipei, which lost to Japan in the 2018 final; and Venezuela, which finished second (behind the United States) in last year’s inaugural Pan Am Women’s Baseball Championship.
Needless to say, Foucher and her teammates will have their work cut out for them, especially against Japan and the other powerhouse clubs. Either way, their trip to Mexico will be history in the making, and an important step forward for baseball in France, and women’s baseball in particular.
“The rules are kind of complicated, and so baseball has struggled to catch on in France,” Foucher admits. “Nevertheless, there’s been an increase over the years in the number of officially registered players. A new version of the sport, Baseball5, is also getting attention, and in my opinion, the fact that BeIn Sports is now broadcasting MLB games with French commentary is also helping make baseball more mainstream.”
By Benjamin Witte (firstname.lastname@example.org)