If you’re going to learn, why not learn from the best? That, it turns out, is exactly what a group of about two dozen French players will have a chance to do next month, when Japanese pitcher Ayami Sato comes to France as the guest of honor at a four-day women’s baseball workshop*.
The event — organized by the French baseball and softball federation (the FFBS) and with support from its Japanese counterpart — will take place between Feb. 8-11 in Montigny-le-Bretonneux (home of the Cougars baseball club), southwest of Paris.
Also attending the workshop will be Akiko Shimura, manager of the reigning world champion Japanese national women’s team, and Lahcène Benhamida, the recently named head coach of the French national women’s team. The group was formed for the first time just last year and will participate this coming September in its first ever Women’s Baseball World Cup (WBWC), in Monterrey, Mexico.
Benhamida has yet to select the players who will represent France in the WBWC. The upcoming training session is one of several events that will give the coaching staff a chance to size up the available talent. But it will also be an important learning opportunity for the participants, especially given the wealth of baseball knowledge and skill that Ayami Sato brings to the table.
For readers who may be unfamiliar with the Japanese ace, suffice it to say that she is the best player on the world’s most dominant team. The MVP winner in each of the last three World Cups, Sato is already a legend. And she’s not done yet. At aged 30, it’s likely that the right-hander still has several high-performance years ahead of her.
In an article published during the last WBWC, in August 2018, the British news magazine The Week described Sato as “the best female baseball player on Earth” and made the case that she could even, one day, be the first woman player enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York.
The piece came out just before the tournament final, which Japan won by blanking Chinese Taipei 6-0. The victory was the team’s 30th consecutive in World Cup play, and gave Japan its 6th straight title, a streak that dates back to the third WBWC in 2008. The United States won the first two World Cups, in 2004 and 2006. Japan finished second in both of those tournaments.
Sato began pitching for the Japanese national team in 2010 and was lights out from the get-go, finishing with a 0.53 earned run average (ERA) in that first WBWC run.
She had an ERA of 0.72 in the 2012 tournament, and in 2014 didn’t give up any runs at all. Her ERA in the 2016 WBWC was 1.33, excellent by the standards of anyone but herself, and in 2018 — when she went 3-0 and nearly notched no-hitter against the U.S. team — her ERA was just 0.37.
Sato and her teammates will try to keep their streak alive in the 2020 World Cup, in Mexico, where the French national team will make its debut appearance after hosting — and winning — last year’s inaugural Women’s European Baseball Championship.
Earlier this month the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) rewarded the up-and-coming French team with its first world ranking — 18th out of 20 (ahead of both Nicaragua and the Czech Republic). Japan, needless to say, is ranked #1.
How much of a splash Les Bleues will make in Monterrey remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Whatever pointers the players can pick up from Sato next month, when she visits Montigny-le-Bretonneux, are sure to help.
*To participate in the workshop, women aged 15 and older can apply by following this link. The cost is 25 euros per day, and the registration period is open until Jan. 31.