For kids in France who gravitate, for whatever reason, toward “America’s pastime,” landing an opportunity to then go play in the United States — no matter the level — is a heck of an accomplishment.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that one of our most popular stories EVER was last year’s “Five French Players Making Their Mark In The USA.” Our readers, it would seem, are as excited as we are to acknowledge and celebrate these special talents.
With that in mind, Le Baseblog is highlighting five more French players who are testing their skills in the birthplace of baseball and softball. But first, a disclaimer:
This is by no means a definitive list of ALL the French players currently in the USA (or Canada, for that matter). Nor is it a ranking in terms of skill or proven success. In other words, for anyone not mentioned below, know that we’ve got nothing but admiration and — in the words of the inimitable Aretha Franklin — R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
Now, on with the list, which starts with a power-hitting utility player whose first foray into baseball was as a member of the Dragons club in Villefontaine, outside of Lyon.
The young Dragon in question, Mael Zan, attended both the Pôle Espoir Montpellier and Pôle France Toulouse baseball academies before first taking his talents to the United States, in 2018, as a member of the Clarendon College Bulldogs, in Texas.
Despite a solid freshman season, Zan opted against returning to Texas. Instead he focused his attention on baseball back in France, where he has made several appearances with the men’s national team and also plays for the Montpellier Barracudas, in the country’s top-divison (D1) league.
This past autumn, however, the young Frenchman, now a sophomore, decided to take another swing at U.S. collegiate ball, this time at an entirely different school: Frontier Community College (FCC) in Fairfield, Illinois.
Listed as a first baseman and outfielder, Zan mostly serves as a designated hitter and is currently batting .273 with 2 hrs and 15 RBIs in 19 games. His FFC Bobcats are now 11-11 after dropping a double header this past weekend. They next take the field today against Lincoln Trail College of nearby Robinson, Illinois.
Like Zan, infielder Frédéric Walter is also a Pôle France alum with national team experience and a resume that boasts the names of not one but two U.S. collegiate programs.
Unlike his Team France coéquipier, the 23-year-old (today is his birthday!) now attends a four-year university — Oklahoma City University, in Oklahoma — to which he transferred following a stint at Seminole State College in Florida.
After batting a solid .338 in last year’s COVID-shorted season, Walter, a senior, picked up where he left off. The hard-hitting infielder has played in all of the team’s 24 games so far, hitting .342 with 5 home runs and 26 RBIs.
Jasmine Bouziri Vuong
Next door to Oklahoma, in the lone-star state of Texas, is an up-and-coming softballer with a “cannon” of an arm. The youngest person on this list, Jasmine Bouziri Vuong turned 14 less than two weeks ago. And yet, she’s already earning accolades for her skills as both an outfielder and pitcher.
Born in Shanghai to a French mother (of Tunisian descent) and a Cambodian father (who became a naturalized French citizen), Jasmine herself grew up mostly in the United States, her parents told Le Baseblog in an email.
Also a gifted volleyball player, Jasmine took a swing at softball starting at age 9, and has excelled ever since. At just 12, she earned a spot on France’s U16 national team and traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, in 2019, for the European Championships. And just this month, as a member the Texas Sudden Impact 14U Tinkelpaugh team, in Texas, she was named one of the country’s top 100 prospects by the publication Extra Innings Softball.
“This kid deserves this plus more!!” her team posted on Twitter in response to the news. “Solid on the mound, outstanding hitter, can track down any ball in the outfield, has a cannon for an arm, awesome teammate, coachable, and pretty dang smart in the classroom.”
How’s that for a compliment?
As good as she is, Jasmine’s main priority, moving forward, will be to continue focusing on academics. “What she likes most about playing [softball] are the people she meets and the adventures she gets to experience,” her parents, former softball players themselves, explain.
More than 1,000 kilometers away, smack dab in the middle of “corn country,” Jimmy Mapakou is showing signs of improvement as a member of the Iowa Lakes Community College (ILCC) Lakers.
Originally from the greater Paris region, he developed his skills first with the Squales de Vauréal club, outside of the French capital, and later with Stade Toulousain and the Sénart Templiers. Mapakou also honed his craft at the Pôle France academy in Toulouse before heading to the United States, where he landed at ILCC after a brief stint at Arizona Western College, in Yuma, Arizona.
The speedy outfielder batted .198 for the Lakers in the 2018-2019 season. And in last year’s pandemic-shortened season, his average was just .174, in limited action.
So far this year, however, Mapakou — still just a sophomore due to a COVID-related eligibility extension — is batting an even .300 after going 2-for-4 just yesterday in a loss to Des Moines Area Community College.
He’s joined on the team by fellow Frenchman and Pôle France alum Mohamed Baoui, a freshman who also grew up outside of Paris and who plays, when in France, for the Sénart Templiers, runners up in the last D1 season (2019).
Last but not least on our list is a power pitcher who made history three years ago when he became just the ninth French player to sign with a Major League Baseball (MLB) organization, in this case the Philadelphia Phillies.
A teenager still when he inked that first deal, the now 20-year-old has so far seen very limited action but is expected to attend spring training in the coming weeks and be assigned thereafter to one of the organization’s minor league affiliates.
In 2018 Antonac appeared in just two games, striking out three in a total of just 2.1 innings for the Phillies East in the Gulf Coast League. The following year he underwent surgery to repair a nerve issue, and then lost his chance to play last year too when all minor-league action was put on hold due to the pandemic.
As this season dawns, the young Montpellier native is feeling good and chomping at the bit to show his stuff. Oh, and rumor has it his throwing speed is up to 95 miles per hour. Yowzers!