This was supposed to be the big day. The one French baseball fans had circled on their calendars. The one France’s national-team players had anticipated for months, and spent the past weeks diligently preparing for in the Arizona desert.
Only instead of playing Germany tonight to begin their quest for a first-ever berth in the World Baseball Classic (WBC), Les Bleus are making plans to head home, their dreams of making history thwarted not by the on-field competition, but by an invisible, fast-spreading virus.
Major League Baseball (MLB) made the announcement Thursday: the 12-team WBC Qualifier Tournament, which was set to begin today (March 13), is “postponed indefinitely” due to the global outbreak of COVID-19.
Deeply disappointing for the fans. Heartbreaking for the French players who’d worked so hard for this moment. But no doubt the right thing to do as the world grapples with a health crisis of unfamiliar proportions.
In the United States, MLB cancelled all spring training games as well, and “will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season,” its Thursday press release reads.
The move comes one day after the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended its season following news that French center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, as the illness is also known.
Later, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced the cancellation of all upcoming tournaments and competitions. The move directly impacts a number of French baseball and softball players, including Mélissa Mayeux of the nationally ranked University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
For baseballers like Frédéric Walter and Ismail Pontiac, who play for U.S. college teams (at Oklahoma City University and Cochise College, respectively) and were also supposed to compete in the WBC qualifiers, the situation is doubly disappointing.
Back in France, baseball, softball and Baseball5 are officially on hold as well, the Fédération Française de Baseball & Softball (FFBS) announced Thursday. Effective today, all games and practices are being suspended until April 1.*
For now, the top-division (D1) baseball season is scheduled to kick off Sunday, April 5 with a double-header between the Montpellier Barracudas and Nice Cavigal. The rest of the league’s 11 teams are supposed to begin the following weekend, though clearly this is a wait-and-see situation given the gravity of what French President Emmanuel Macron described last night as the country’s “worst health crisis in a century.”
In the meantime, the focus for players and fans alike will have to be on safety and solidarity as France — and the rest of the world — batten down the hatches as the illness spreads.
*UPDATE: The FFBS has since announced the suspension of all baseball, softball and Baseball5 activities until June 1.