The weather outside is frightful (at least in some parts of the country), and with the COVID-19 crisis far from contained, the outlook for French baseball could certainly be more delightful.
But there’s also a stubborn optimism in the air, along with a burning desire among the nation’s players, coaches and organizers to brush off this past year’s many disappointments and make 2021 a season to remember — this time for the right reasons. And with a flurry of baseball news and announcements making the rounds, it’s hard not to have visions of Sunday doubleheaders and European tournaments dancing in our heads.
Indeed, there’s enough information out there to start painting a pretty appealing picture of the year ahead, and by the look of things (the health situation notwithstanding) we’re in for a real treat. So, without further ado, here’s a quick — and chronological — rundown to what awaits:
Women’s Baseball World Cup
The first big event of the new year also feels like the most tenuous, in part because it’s set to begin just over two months from now, on March 1, but also because it’s been postponed twice already. Fool me once, fool me twice…
Adding to the uncertainly is the fact that the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), the organization responsible for the event, hasn’t issued any updates since October, when it announced that the Women’s Baseball World Cup, originally planned for September and later pushed back to November, wouldn’t take place in 2020 at all.
Still, here’s to hoping the show does go on, especially since it will mark France’s first appearance in the 12-team, biannual competition, which first took place in 2004.
Les Blues qualified for the World Cup by winning the first-ever Women’s European Baseball Championships, in 2019. Standouts in that competition included hot-hitters Marjorie Brunel, Mélissa Mayeux and Raina Hunter, and pitcher Camille Foucher. The feat was all the more remarkable given that until then, France didn’t even have a women’s team.
The World Cup favorites, as things stand now, are the Japanese. The country has six world titles, along with the planet’s best female pitcher, three-time World Cup MVP Ayami Sato, who helped lead a baseball workshop in France this past February.
D1 Opening Day
French baseball’s governing body, the FFBS, hasn’t yet made its 2021 elite-division (D1) schedule public, but sources within the 11-team league suggest that play could begin on Sunday, April 4. Yes, please!
Also, according to the provisional schedule, the season will conclude in late August, when the competition’s top two teams meet in a best-of-seven French Series to determine a league champion. The winner earns a spot in the following year’s Champions Cup, Europe’s premier club event.
* this date is subject to change
D1 Challenge de France
April 29-May 2
La Rochelle, Pineuilh
The mid-season Challenge de France tournament is one of the D1’s showcase events, and in this case, the scheduled dates and host locations are official.
The main host city will be La Rochelle, home of the Boucaniers, sixth-place finishers in the 2019 D1 campaign. Originally, games were also supposed to take place in Saint-Aubin de Médoc, northwest of Bordeaux. The FFBS announced earlier this month, however, that the Saint-Aubin Blue Jays club will decline the hosting opportunity. The tournament’s secondary site will instead be Pineuilh, a small town about 70 kilometers west of Bordeaux.
The Challenge de France will feature the top eight clubs from 2019, and gives teams an early opportunity test their strength and build momentum going forward. Also, the winner earns a spot in the following year’s CEB Cup, a Europe-wide club tournament like the Champions Cup (and held simultaneously), but for teams that are a notch below.
Lieusiant (Stade Templiers)
Speaking of the “B Cup,” as it’s also known, this year’s version of the CEB Cup will take place in France, south of Paris, and be hosted by the Sénart Templiers, runners up in the 2019 French Series (they lost to the Rouen Huskies) and winners of the last Challenge de France.
The Templiers will be joined by seven other teams from across the continent: Draci Brno (Czech Republic), the Therwil Flyers (Switzerland), Biotechom (Ukraine), the Deurne Spartans (Belgium), BC Minsk (Belarus), the Valencia Astros (Spain), and the Dornbirn Indians (Germany).
The winner earns a promotion to next year’s “A Cup,” i.e. the Champions Cup.
Ostrava, Czech Republic
Held at the same time as the CEB Cup, the higher-level “A Cup” will be hosted this year by the Arrows of Ostrava, in the Czech Republic. France’s sole representative will be the Rouen Huskies, winners of the past five D1 championships (2015-2019) and 14 of the last 15, going back to 2005. Talk about a dynasty.
The other six teams in the top-tier club tournament will be Fortitudo Bologna, winners of this year’s Italian Series; Parma Clima, also from Italy’s Serie A1 league; 2020 Holland Series finalists Neptunus Rotternam and the Amsterdam Pirates of the Netherlands; and the German clubs Heidenheim Heidekopfe and the Bonn Capitals.
The last-place finisher will be relegated the following year to the CEB Cup.
Women’s European Baseball Championships
July 27/28- 31
Assuming the Women’s World Cup takes place as planned, 2021 promises to be very busy year for Team France, which will also have a chance, in late July, to defend its European crown, albeit this time against a broader pool of opponents.
Europe’s second Women’s Baseball Championships will again take place in France, this time in the sunny south, at Montpellier’s Greg Hamilton Baseball Park. But unlike the 2019 tournament, held in Rouen, the number of participating teams will increase from three to five.
Along with the national women’s teams from France, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, the 2021 event will also feature Great Britain and Poland. The winner earns a spot in the 2022 Women’s World Cup.
Men’s European Baseball Championships
It won’t take place until mid September, but the next edition of the men’s European Baseball Championships will definitely be worth the wait, especially for Team France, which came oh-so-close to testing its mettle in this year’s World Baseball Classic (WBC) qualifiers only to have the tournament cancelled at the eleventh hour due the coronavirus outbreak.
Les Bleus and the other 11 teams that participated in last baseball “Euro” tourney — Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain, Great Britain, Austria, Croatia and Sweden — will all be back. But unlike in 2019, they’ll be joined by four additional teams (that are yet-to-be-determined).
Judging by the group it sent to Arizona last March for the WBC qualifiers, France should have a talented squad. They’ll have their work cut out for themselves, however, especially against their counterparts from Holland (the defending champs), Italy, Spain and Germany.
Courage les gars!