An Update On Winter Baseball Over Yonder (And Down Under)

Manny being Manny in Sydney, at least for a few weeks (Credit: Sydney Blue Sox)

Now that we’ve turned the corner into 2021, the start of France’s elite-division (D1) baseball league is finally within sight — sort of.

If all goes according to plan, players will take the field starting the weekend of April 3/4, which isn’t that far off, but isn’t that close either. The short days and cold temps here in Europe (brrrr!) aren’t making the wait any easier. And then, of course, there’s the coronavirus pandemic, which has a proven record of scuttling even the best-laid plans.

But rather than despair, French baseball fans can take comfort knowing that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel in the form of actual baseball games already taking place early in 2021. Some are available on streaming (a welcome distraction!). And… there are even a few French connections worth noting. Mais oui!

Yes, while inclement weather can make playing ball in North America and Europe almost impossible from November to February, elsewhere — in areas like the Caribbean and Australia/New Zealand — these are precisely the months when it’s game on. 

The land of Oz

In the case of the Australian Baseball League (ABL), long, warm days mean professional players from the U.S. minor and major leagues take their talents down under to team up with the best local Aussies. Also in the mix are a number of young prospects from Korea, Japan and Taiwan who likewise take advantage of the southern hemisphere summer to hone their skills year round.

Recently, the ABL also featured a team from Auckland, New Zealand — the Tuatara — which joined the league in 2018, providing professional baseball for Kiwis to watch and play on their home soil. This year, however, due to particularly strict travel restrictions between the two countries, Auckland decided not to participate in the ABL season.

Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney began play in December, all of them hoping, once things wrap up in February, to take home the Claxton Shield, as the ABL’s championship trophy is called.

While initially making a big splash signing former MLB superstar Manny Ramírez, Sydney just recently announced they would be releasing the now 48-year-old. A member of MLB’s exclusive 500 home run club, Ramírez suffered an injury in a preseason game and couldn’t make it back on the field.

While Manny’s ABL appearance would have been a swan song of sorts, a number of other big leaguers passed through Australia before making it to the show. Such players include Ji-Man Choi and Chin-lung Hu (Adelaide), Travis Blackley and Donald Lutz (Brisbane), Didi Gregorius and Kevin Kiermaier (Canberra), Pete Kozma and Warwick Saupold (Perth), Ronald Acuna Jr. and Liam Hendriks (Melbourne), and Gift Ngoepe and Rhys Hoskins (Sydney), to name a few.

Two French pitchers, Owen Ozanich and Jonathan Mottay, also appeared (albeit briefly) in the ABL, Ozanich in 2011 and 2012 with Adelaide, Mottay in 2017 with Canberra. At roughly the halfway point of the current season, Adelaide currently leads the standings just ahead of Melbourne.

Mottay warming up for Montigny (Credit: Montigny Cougars)

Ozanich, after a number of seasons with the perennial D1 champion Rouen Huskies, now plays for the Montpellier Barracudas. Mottay, who earlier in his career spent several seasons with the Sénart Templiers, is currently affiliated with the Montigny Cougars.

Hasta siempre la victoria

An ocean away (and then some), the Caribbean nations are wrapping up their playoffs right now ahead of the annual Serie del Caribe. The festive Caribbean Series usually unites the top club teams from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, whose winter league, as Le Baseblog recently reported, has some French connections of its own.

While Cuba has had historically the best success in the week-long tournament, they will sit out the 2021 version (due to, you guessed it, COVID concerns) and will be replaced by Panama.

In 2020, Los Toros del Este from the Dominican Republic — the talent hotspot that produced several current D1 players, including Ariel Soriano of the Sénart Templiers and Luís Delogu of Stade Toulousain) — took home the 2020 Serie del Caribe title. Former big league utility player and French World Baseball Classic selection Alen Hanson was a key member of the club, appearing in 38 games with the Dominican squad.

The 2021 edition will begin Jan. 31 in the Mexican resort city of Mazatlan. Be sure to check back in a few weeks for a more detailed preview of the six teams competing for the title of Campeón del Caribe 2021!

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