With French Baseball Again On Hold, Focus Shifts To 2021

Players and coaches are ready to turn the page on 2020 (Credit: B. Witte)

A new, nationwide lockdown has, for all intents and purposes, put an inglorious end to French baseball’s annus horribilis, leaving the country’s clubs, players and coaches with little left to do but cross fingers and hope for better days ahead.

Like in the spring, when the coronavirus pandemic first made its presence felt in France, all games and practices are once again on hold, this time for a month — at the very least. The moratorium even applies to youth teams, despite the fact that schools are to remain open, unlike during the last lockdown.

For kids who were just getting back into a rhythm after losing most of the year already, the second confinement period is extra disappointing. The same goes for some of the county’s top-level adult players, even though this would normally be their off-season.

That’s certainly the case for the six clubs participating in the Suzanne Bricaud Challenge, which the Ligue Ile-de-France Baseball, Softball, Cricket (Ligue IDB) organized as a late-hour replacement of sorts for this year’s lost first- and second-division (D1 and D2) seasons.

From the beginning, inclement weather and a handful of COVID-positive cases made the mixed-level Challenge just that: a challenge — especially when it came to scheduling. Nevertheless, players and organizers battled through the adversity and were looking forward to wrapping up the mini season with a best-of-three championship series in mid-November.

But with the lockdown, that’s no longer an option. It’s officially GAME OVER, in other words, for the competition and its participating clubs: Paris UC (which fielded two teams in the Challenge), the Savigny Lions, Rouen Huskies, Montigny Cougars, Sénart Templiers and Thiais Tigers.

Acuña led all Challenge players with 12 hits (Credit: Glenn Gervot)

Without a championship round, there’ll be no official winner of the Challenge, just a record — to be filed away somewhere — of the standings as they stood on Oct. 25, when the last games were played. Still, hat’s off to Paris UC’s “A” team, which went a perfect 8-0 to finish in first place.

The Savigny Lions (6-2), led by their dynamic duo of Ivan Acuña and Jacques Boucheron (who batted .500 and .417 respectively and had 22 hits between them), had a good run as well, as did the Huskies, last year’s D1 champs, who overcame a slow start in the competition to go 5-3.

Rouen’s Joris Bert and Hugo Blondel both batted .538, while teammate Dylan Gleeson had a .529 average and tied Acuña for the most runs scored with 11.

The competition’s top pitcher was Savigny’s Evertz Orosco, a former Atlanta Braves prospect, who went 3-0 with a stingy 0.41 ERA and 35 strikeouts. Paris UC’s Pietro Briggi (3-0, 0.81 ERA) and Harvey García (3-0, 1.26 ERA) were lights out as well, with 33 strikeouts between them.

The rockin’ Roosters

The Challenge Suzanne Bricaud isn’t the only tournament left in a state of suspended animation by the new lockdown. A four-team women’s baseball tournament, also organized by the Ligue IDB, has likewise been suspended just two weeks before the finals were to take place.

Leading the Challenge Régional IDF Baseball Féminin 2020, as of Oct. 24, when the last games were played, were the Royals Roosters of Pontoise and the Ermont Expos. The other two teams in the competition were the Montigny Cougars and the Paris Becrews.

Montigny’s women’s squad (Credit: Ligue IDF)

The tournament title game was supposed to coincide with this year’s Women’s Baseball World Cup, a World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) event that was pushed back from September to November because of the pandemic, but has since been postponed again — until March, 2021.

France will have a chance to compete in the event for the first time ever thanks to its victory in last year’s inaugural Women’s European Baseball Championship, held in Rouen. For now, the tournament is set to begin March 1 in Tijuana, Mexico.

Slim pickings

It’s to next year, in other words, that France’s top players — both men and women — must now turn their focus. And that, in turn, means being patient, which is easier said than done, especially for groups that hardly had a chance to play at all this year.

The Montpellier Barracudas, last year’s third-place finishers in the D1, are a case in point. Unable to compete in either the Suzanne Bricaud Challenge or the French Summer League (FSL), held in August and September, the Barracudas didn’t see any action at all until October, when they were finally able to play a handful of friendlies, twice beating the Albatros Baseball Club of nearby La Grande Motte, and winning three of four against the Meyzieu Cards.

Young gun Ismail Pontiac of Montpellier (Credit: B. Witte)

The squad had plans at one point to compete against some teams in Spain. There was talk too of traveling to Italy for some friendly games. All of that got nixed by the ever-evolving coronavirus precautions, as did a double-header that Montpellier had hoped to host this past Sunday against Nice Cavigal, third-place finishers in the FSL. The lockdown, imposed two days earlier, squashed that opportunity.

“We just feel bad because we wanted to keep the positive momentum going,” Barracudas pitcher Owen Ozanich told Le Baseblog. “We played pretty well this fall, especially the younger guys on the team who got their chance to show their talent and be on the field basically every inning. We wanted to close out this mini fall season at home on a good note against another D1 club, but that’ll have to wait.”

Dates and other details

Ozanich, who went 3-0 with 21 strikeouts in that “mini season,” says he’s eager now for the 2021 schedule to come out. That’ll be key for all the D1 clubs, he explained — so that they can start planning in earnest, especially with regards to overseas recruitment.

Most of those roster decisions won’t go public for a while now, although there are a few rumors floating around, including one that involves a certain seasoned veteran from Venezuela who took his talents to Belgium this year but may be joining Paris UC in the spring. Veremos!

In the meantime, there is some official news to report on the international scheduling front. The WBSC’s Europe division recently announced dates for the 2021 men’s and women’s European championships, to be held in mid-September and late July respectively. The men’s competition will take place in Turin, Italy. The venue for the women’s event is still unknown.

The dates and locations for Europe’s two big club competitions — the Champions Cup and CEB Cup — are also public. The Rouen Huskies will participate in the Champions Cup, which will take place the last week of May in the Czech city of Ostrava. The CEB Cup, as originally planned for this year, will be hosted the same week by the Templiers of Sénart, south of Paris…

… provided of course that we’re not dealing with a third lockdown. Stay safe everyone.

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