For the players taking part in the Challenge Suzanne Bricaud (CSB), the late-season “replacement” tournament has been just that: a challenge, but not because of what’s happening on the field.
Like the recently concluded French Summer League (FSL), the Bricaud competition came together as a belated Plan B for clubs left high and dry by the French Baseball and Softball Federation’s decision, back in May, to cancel the D1 and D2 seasons.
But unlike the FSL, which ended two weeks ago on a picture perfect, late-September day (congrats again to the La Rochelle Boucaniers), the seven-team CSB is proceeding in a much less propitious climate. And we’re not just talking about the predictably dismal weather that arrived with the onset of autumn. Brrr!
A far more troubling obstacle for the six-club (seven-team) competition is COVID-19, which is again spreading quickly in France and has even infected certain players, forcing several games to be postponed already.
Nevertheless, the CSB’s organizers are determined that the show go on — at least for now. That, in turn, means playing things very much by ear as far as scheduling is concerned. Last Sunday’s (Oct. 4) matchups were a case in point.
The program published at the outset of the competition had the Rouen Huskies, last year’s D1 champs, hosting the Montigny Cougars. The coronavirus put that encounter on ice. But there was a doubleheader between two teams that originally thought they’d have the weekend off: the Savigny Lions and PUC 2*.
The Lions, last season’s fourth-place finishers in the then 12-team D1, won both games, and in convincing fashion (10-1 and 7-4). Jacques Boucheron, the D1’s offensive player of the year in 2019, went 2-for-5 on the day with 4 RBIs and 2 runs scored. Teammates Axel Amoros and Lucas Becouze also had 2 hits apiece. And Ivan Acuña, who had a sensational first season in the D1 last year (.409 with 45 hits), went 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI.
The Sénart Templiers and PUC 1 were also able to play a double header on Sunday. The Templiers, runners up in the 2019 D1 campaign, won the opener 2-1 but fell 7-10 in the second game.
With the split, PUC 1 now has a 3-1 record. Sénart is 2-2 overall, as are their arch rivals, the Rouen Huskies. The Thiais Tigers and Montigny Cougars are both 2-4. And leading the pack, at 5-1, are the Savigny Lions.
A game is a game
No doubt the chilly weather and COVID-19 concerns make this a less-than-ideal time to play ball. But after losing so many months earlier in the year, the players will take what they can get.
“We’ve played through rain, but it hasn’t been as bad as it looks in the forecast,” Ivan Acuña, who also played for a brief stint this summer with the Wrocław Barons club in Poland, told Le Baseblog.
“It’s just great to be back on the field and playing baseball, especially with all the young kids that are playing with us,” the hot-hitting, Venezuelan-born catcher added.
Pitcher Owen Ozanich of the Montpellier Barracudas can relate. He too was able to play a bit of ball elsewhere in Europe (the righty appeared in two games for Parma Clima, in Italy’s Serie A league) but was otherwise idle all summer, and frustratingly so.
Unlike Acuña’s Lions, the Barracudas didn’t participate in either the French Summer League or the Suzanne Bricaud tournament. But the Montpellier players did see a bit of action — finally — the weekend before last, when Ozanich and a group of D1/ D2 guys took on the outmatched Albatros Baseball Club in La Grande Motte.
His appearance in the opener against the Albatros was Ozanich’s first with Montpellier since joining the club a full year ago. The French-born pitcher gave up just 1 hit in 4 innings and struck out 7.
The Barracudas will play another pair of friendly games this coming Sunday (Oct. 11), when they host the Meyzieu Cards. The following weekend, weather and COVID-19 permitting, they’ll travel east to play Nice Cavigal, third place finishers in the FSL.
Swinging a big bat
A few other familiar faces from the world of French baseball have been playing into the autumn as well, but outside of the country.
Cuban slugger Hasely Medina, who batted a .461 last season for Nice Cavigal, originally planned to suit up this season for the Metz Cometz. But when word came down that France’s D1 season was canceled, he took his talents to Poland, where he helped lead the Wrocław Barons to their first ever title in the country’s Ekstraliga.
The regular season ended a few weeks ago, but this past weekend, Medina and his teammates participated in the league’s end-of-season Challenge tournament. They lost in the semi-final round but had the pleasure, nevertheless, of receiving the regular–season championship trophy, which the Barons earned by going an impressive 15-1 in league play.
Medina also participated Sunday in the Ekstraliga’s home run derby, alongside fellow D1 veteran Douglas Rodríguez, who has divided his time of late between Paris UC and the Polish club Dęby Osielsko. Medina won the slug-off but will now be rooting for Rodríguez and Dęby Osielsko to beat Stal Kutno in next weekend’s final of the Ekstraliga Challenge.
Video game numbers
Further south, in the Italian city of Nettuno, former D1 star and French national team member Ariel Soriano has been putting on a show of his own.
After two seasons in France, first with the La Rochelle Boucaniers and then with Rouen, the dynamic Dominican earned a roster spot with Nettuno Baseball Club 1945, in Italy’s second division, the Serie A2. And once on board, it didn’t take long for Soriano and his new squad to get their groove on.
Technically, the team is 13-1. But their one “loss” was really an after-the-fact disqualification for a player-eligibility violation. In the game in question, Nettuno actually crushed the opposing team.
Soriano, a former Tampa Bay Rays prospect, has been crushing as well. He’s third in the league in both average (.456) and hits (26) and leads all players in RBIs, with 25.
Next up for Soriano and Nettuno is a date with Modena for a best-of-five Finals series that begins next Saturday (Oct. 10), with a double header. The two clubs resume their series the following Saturday (Oct. 17) in Modena, with a fifth and final game, if necessary, on Oct. 18.
Win or lose, the talented utility player looks like he’s carved out a place for himself in Italian baseball for the foreseeable future. Congratulazioni!
*The Paris UC club is fielding two teams in the competition, PUC 1 and PUC 2