In France, A Summer Sans Baseball

Needless to say, the decision in France to cancel all of this year’s baseball and softball competitions didn’t make it onto the ESPN website.

It’s didn’t garner a mention in Le Monde either, or even in local papers like La Gazette, in Montpellier, home to the Barracudas club, whose top-division (D1) baseball team was gunning for a championship and even planned to bring over a former Big Leaguer from the States.

Sadly, the lack of attention doesn’t come as a surprise. Except for the occasional article here and there, French baseball just doesn’t generate a lot of buzz — even in France. With the exception of the players, coaches and their immediate friends and family, few know the sport is even played here, and at a semi-professional level no less.

But that doesn’t mean that last month’s decision by the French Baseball & Softball Federation (FFBS) to completely axe the season doesn’t matter. It does. For the coaches, administrators, fans and, above all, the players, it’s of tremendous importance, and that’s because there’s no teleworking in baseball.

A lost season means lost livelihoods. There’s also the fact that for serious athletes, time is of the essence — it’s both fleeting and finite. There are only so many years an adult player can really dedicate to the sport, and so time spent away from the field is time that’s gone forever.

The men’s national team will be out of action until 2021 (Credit: Scott Steve)

A summer without baseball means missed opportunities to develop and improve; a stolen chance to shine and maybe get noticed. It means lost momentum, and for some players — veterans who were hoping for one last hurrah, but also young guys weighing their love of the game against the pressure to find better-paid employment — the canceled season might even be career ending.

Truth be told, the FFBS’s decision to pull the plug on 2020 took a toll on Le Baseblog as well. After posting exactly 50 stories in less than a year — many of them in anticipation of the originally scheduled April start to the D1 season — the well of inspiration seemed to suddenly go dry. For the past two months it seemed easier to post no news than bad news.

Eyes on the prize

Elsewhere in Europe, baseball is gradually coming back. The COVID-19 health crisis forced countries to postpone seasons everywhere. Now, though, countries from Belgium to Poland and most places in between are starting, one by one, to play ball again. France is the exception. The FFBS opted for prudence in the face of an illness that, to date, has taken nearly 30,000 lives here.

Players know, of course, that some things are bigger than baseball. But that doesn’t stop them from feeling not just disappointed — and deeply so — but also increasingly frustrated. A few players may manage to scramble onto teams outside of France. For most, however, there’s little to do but just wait it out and keep their eyes on the prize for whatever opportunities surface next year.

In the meantime, baseball and softball players are at least being allowed, finally, to start practicing again. On social media, clubs are celebrating their first forays back onto the field, and posting pics of freshly painted dugouts and other infrastructure improvements made in the down time of an offseason that now seems endless.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, in other words. This too, as they say, shall pass. But it’s also okay to admit that this summer sans baseball — and please, pardon my French — mostly just sucks!

—Benjamin Witte (benjawitte@gmail.com)

9 comments

  1. […] This past spring, to contain the so-called “first wave” of the coronavirus pandemic, France ordered a prolonged lockdown that put all sports — baseball included — on ice. There were no practices. No games. Nothing. Foreign players who’d been contracted to play in the country’s semi-pro league, the top-division D1, were told to stay home. In May the season was canceled outright. […]

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