It’s now been more than a year since the Rouen Huskies finished off the Sénart Templiers to win their fifth top-division (D1) title in a row and 14th in 15th years. Dominance!
Since then, though, the defending champs have done a whole lot of… nothing. It’s not that the team has underperformed. Sadly, they haven’t performed at all, and for obvious reasons.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the decision by French baseball’s governing body, the FFBS, to cancel the D1 (and D2) seasons, the Huskies have gone more than 12 long months without playing a proper game. And they’re not alone. A number of France’s other top teams have also been frustratingly idle since hanging up their cleats at the end of the 2019 season.
Thankfully, though, that long baseball hiatus is finally coming to an end — at least for some of those clubs, Rouen included. Come Sunday, the Huskies and five other teams will take the field for Opening Day of the Challenge Suzanne Bricaud, a six-club (seven-team) tournament that will run through October and conclude with a championship series in early November.
Made up mostly from teams in the greater Paris area, the Challenge — organized by La Ligue Ile de France de Baseball, Softball et Cricket — also features Paris PUC, the Sénart Templiers, Savigny Lions and Montigny Cougars — all of which qualified last season for the D1 playoffs — as well as the Thiais Tigers club, which competes at the D2 level.
Paris PUC will field two teams in the tournament. Their A squad goes up against Rouen on Opening Day (Sept. 6). Elsewhere, the Templiers and Tigers meet in Sénart, and the Cougars teavel to Savigny for a cat fight with the Lions. All of the meetings will be double-headers, with first pitch at 11 a.m.
From there, games will be played every Sunday through Oct. 25. After that, the two teams with the top records will compete for the Challenge crown, in a best-of-three series to take place on the weekend of Nov. 6/7.
The French Summer League
Like the Huskies, the Savigny Lions and Montigny Cougars have also had an extremely long wait since last year’s D1 season, when then finished fourth and fifth respectively in the then 12-team league.
Things are a bit different for Paris PUC and the Sénart Templiers, who saw their long baseball droughts end in with the start, early last month, of the FFBS-sponsored French Summer League (FSL).
Like the Challenge Suzanne Bricaud, the FSL — a mini-season that is being played in regional pools and wraps up in mid September — features a mix of D1 and D2 teams, but with an emphasis on the latter.
Not surprisingly, the higher-level clubs have dominated, and even though there’s still one more weekend of pool play (Sept. 12/13), four of the tournament’s five D1 teams have already qualified for the semi-final round.
The four clubs that’ll vie for the league title, in games to take place Sept. 19/20 in Sénart, are Paris PUC, the La Rochelle Boucaniers, Stade Toulousain and Nice Cavigal.
And among the teams that are participating in one or both tournaments, none are operating at full strength, as many of the top-division’s foreign recruits — guys like Rouen’s Venezuelan ace Yoimer Camacho — didn’t make it to France this year.
Baseball is baseball though. For the players and fans, any games are better than none, and late is definitely better than never. It’s also safe to day that as the two mini seasons progress and the top dogs separate themselves from the pack, the competition level will heat up.
One more thing: Don’t sleep on the Huskies!