It’s not the most elegant of acronyms, but given everything that’s gone down in this craziest of years, people can be forgiven for putting the question out there: WTF?
When it comes to the world of French baseball, 2020 has also been a year of “what ifs.” What if, for example, the COVID-19 outbreak hadn’t forced organizers, back in March, to cancel the World Baseball Classic (WBC) qualifiers just as the tournament was set to kick off?
Would Team France, under the tutelage of MLB legend Bruce Bochy, have made history? Would Les Bleus, stacked with talent like never before, have finally punched their ticket to international baseball’s biggest show?
Speaking of history, this was supposed to be the year that France participated for the first time ever in the Women’s Baseball World Cup. Originally set to take place in September, in Tijuana, Mexico, the event was pushed back to November before (ugg!) being postponed yet again, this time until March 2021. Could Team France, which didn’t even have a women’s hardball team until 2019, have made a real splash in the event?
And what if the sport’s governing body in France, the FFBS, hadn’t decided, in May, to cancel the first and second-division (D1 and D2) baseball and softball seasons outright?
Would the Rouen Huskies, winners of the past five D1 titles, have repeated as national champions? What about their arch rivals, the Sénart Templiers? Could a team like the Montpellier Barracudas, whose off-season recruits included a former MLB position player, have pushed them both aside?
The fact is, we’ll never know, just as we can’t know how things might have played out had the Suzanne Bricaud Challenge, a late-hour replacement of sorts for the cancelled D1 and D2 seasons, not been called off early because of France’s second national lockdown, beginning in late October.
Would Paris UC’s “A” team — they were undefeated (8-0) when the Challenge was halted — have held on to win the seven-team mini season? Could the Savigny Lions (6-2), led by their dynamic duo of Ivan Acuña and Jacques Boucheron, have given PUC a run for their money? The Huskies were starting to heat up as well. Could the perennial powerhouse club have made a last-minute push to the finish line?
Qui sait? Nothing, after all, was it as it should be in 2020. And yet, amid all the uncertainty and frustration, there was one quasi-official event that, as luck would have it, actually managed to begin and end on schedule. And of the 11 participating teams, one in particular stood out for what proved, in the end, to be a picture-perfect run.
We’re talking, of course, about the La Rochelle Boucaniers, who went undefeated to win the French Summer League (FSL), a mixed-level, mini season that the FFBS organized for the months of August and September.
An easy choice for our ‘Team of the Year,’ the Boucaniers blazed through the regular-phase of the FSL, dominating their outmatched opponents on both ends of the ball. But it was during the competition’s championship weekend, at Templiers Stadium in Sénart, that the group really impressed.
With stellar pitching performances by Pablo “El Pítono” Ossandon and Rayner Oliveros of Venezuela, excellent all around defense, and timely hits from up and down the order, the La Rochelle squad beat Paris UC in the semi finals, and then Stade Toulousain in a hyper-competitive title game to take home the trophy.
They’re a tight-knit, experienced group, with solid starters, a skilled contingent of U.S. imports, and plenty of homegrown talent. But it was their grit and joy that made the difference in the FSL final, and that should serve as a warning to the rest of the D1. Don’t sleep on the Boucaniers!