BÉZIERS — It may have been Super Bowl Sunday, but the name of the game on this unseasonably warm, mid-winter’s day just outside of France’s “oldest city” (or so they say) was most definitely softball.
Once again, the Biterrois-Pirates Baseball Club of Béziers hosted the final day of the Winter Series, a 10-team*, off-season softball competition that, despite the name, is played mostly in autumn. And for the fourth year in a row — and 14th time overall — the Pirates (arg!) stole the show, beating Stade Toulousain in the deciding game of what was a veritable marathon of softball mixte.
That’s the name used in France to describe the co-ed version of the sport, which is also a real mixed bag in terms of skill level and ages. Teenagers play alongside people as old as their parents. National team members play with relative novices.
There’s a noticeable talent discrepancy too among the various teams that compete in the Winter Series. But what the league’s many players share is a love of softball, and a fondness for gatherings like the one on Sunday, Feb. 2.
The last game day of the Winter Series calendar was, incidentally, the only one that actually took place in winter. Not that it felt like it. The mercury in Béziers climbed up to about 20 degrees (68F), perfect softball weather really, but odd for early February. Mother Nature seems to be a bit mixte up these days too.
Climate confusion aside, what was clear coming into Sunday’s multi-game event — in which all 10 Winter Series teams participated — is that the cream of the crop were the Clapiers-Jacou Rabbits, Montpellier Barracudas, Stade Toulousain and Béziers Pirates.
Of those four, Clapiers-Jacou and Montpellier had the league’s best records, at 13-2-1 and 12-3-1 respectively. But it was the other two — Toulouse (11-3-2) and Béziers (11-5) — that had all the right moves on Sunday.
Stade Toulousain nudged past the Barracudas (6-5) in one of the two semi-final games, while across the field, playing simultaneously, the Pirates sent the top-seeded Rabbits packing (7-5).
Thanks to a solid, complete-game performance by pitcher Laura Bezombes, Béziers took control of the title match as well, going up 12-5 after four innings. With time running out, the team from Toulouse got a bit of rally going in the fifth and final frame, scoring three. But it was too little too late against the piping hot Pirates, who won the game — and the Winter Series championship — by a final score of 12-8.
“We’re kind of used to winning this tournament but still, it feels great — especially since this year it’s a different group with a lot of new and young female players,” François Bonnet, president and co-founder of the Biterrois-Pirates Baseball Club, told Le Baseblog. “For us that’s really big, because we place a lot of importance on the club’s youngest members.”
Bonnet and Lionel Teixidor — the club’s vice-president and general manager, and coach of the co-ed softball team — are also big on having fun. And win or lose, that, more than anything, is what the Winter Series is all about.
“It’s just something that makes everyone happy,” the club president explained. “The Winter Series gives a lot of players and coaches a chance to play. It doesn’t really matter what age you are, or who you know. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some quality softball being played.”
*The 10 teams participating in the 2019/2020 Winter Series were as follows: Béziers Pirates, Stade Toulousain, Clapiers-Jacou Rabbits (red), Clapiers-Jacou Rabbits (blue), Montpellier Barracudas, Perpignan Phénix, Beaucaire Chevaliers, Ours de Toulouse, Léguevin Duckies and Rodez Shamans.