MONTPELLIER — Decked out in a faded blue T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Mack Mom,” Lisa Fleury tries to keep cool as she cheers on her son Stephen Fleury, the starting pitcher for the visiting Metz Cometz, on a roasting Sunday afternoon at Montpellier’s Greg Hamilton Baseball Park.
Her husband is here too, as are the parents of Thomas Joyce, who plays catcher for the Cometz. The two couples have known each other for years, and this is by no means the first time they’ve met up at an away game. And yet, never have they had to travel quite this far to see their sons play.
From Metz, near the border with Germany, the road to Montpellier runs more than 750 kilometers. It’s a slog, in other words, even on one of France’s signature TGV (high-speed) trains. But that’s only half the story, because before making that trip, the proud parents first had to cross an entire ocean.
Not that they’re complaining. “It’s amazing to be here,” Mrs. Fleury tells Le Baseblog. “It was a bucket-list thing. You still have to kind of pinch us. We’re like, ‘Are we really swimming in the Mediterranean right now, about to watch the kids play baseball?’ It’s pretty incredible.”
The Fleurys and Joyces both live in the greater Boston area, and the reason they know each other is that their sons played together for five years on the same collegiate team, the Warriors of Merrimack College, in North Andover, Massachusetts. Thus the “Mack Mom” T-shirt.
Now, just a few months removed from their fifth and final season at Merrimack, pitcher Stephen Fleury and catcher Thomas Joyce are teammates all over again, albeit this time in a new city, Metz, and in an entirely different country.
Even more surprising is that a third former Merrimack College player, pitcher Daniel Amidon, is also along for the adventure, and together, the three buddies from Boston are doing their best to help the Cometz compete in France’s 11-team D1 baseball league. They’re also having a lot of fun.
“We actually just came back from Paris, so we saw the Eiffel tower, and we saw the Louvre, which was just amazing,” says Fleury. “I would never have done this if I didn’t get this job. So that’s just been great — all the experiences we’ve had.”
That the three players — all from the same collegiate program and graduating class — would play for the same European club is unusual. But it’s not a coincidence.
French teams often rely on word-of-mouth when recruiting what are known as “import” players, guys who come from places like the United States or Venezuela and are paid modest salaries to give their respective squads, comprised mostly of local amateur players, a more competitive edge.
The Metz are no exception in this regard, and after reaching an agreement with Thomas — who’d had his sights set on playing in Europe since 2020 and was initially contacted via an outside recruitment agency called Baseball Jobs Overseas — the club’s administrators allowed the burly catcher to suggest a few more names.
Fleury and Amidon are thankful he did. The former was initially planning to get a full time job in business this summer. But after talking things over with Thomas, he quickly changed his mind.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll continue my baseball career, come over to France, tour Europe with a couple of my best friends. And then one of our Dominican pitchers didn’t end up making the COVID test, so we were looking for another pitcher, and we asked Dan to come over too.”
Living the dream
The decision was a no-brainer, in other words, even if for all three players the trip itself was more than a bit nerve-racking. Even Thomas, who’d committed to the idea of playing overseas more than a year ago, acknowledges just how anxious he was as his departure loomed.
“I am so thankful that they’re here,” he says of his fellow Merrimack-to-the-Metz teammates.
“Especially with the travel. I was so nervous when I was leaving home that day. I’d never been to Europe before, and just the thought of having to do all that by myself was pretty scary, and just having Steve to travel with made it so much easier.”
Dan Amidon flew over separately, and lived to tell the tale, but admits that he too felt completely overwhelmed.
“It was the most daunting thing that I’ve done. It was also completely spontaneous,” he says. “I just kind of packed up all my stuff and went for it, but I’m so glad that I made that decision.”
There have been challenges since their arrival as well, particularly with the language barrier, and some disappointments too as far as the team’s success is concerned. The Comtez, newcomers to the D1 in 2019, are 4-10 so far this season and in second-to-last place in their pool. Four of those losses — including two on this particular Sunday in early August — have come at the hands of the first-place Montpellier Barracudas.
Individually, however, the three former Merrimack Warriors are all performing well. Joyce leads the team in hits (15) and average (.375), while Fleury is first in the entire league in strikeouts, with 56 in 38 innings.
Still, what the young men are most thankful for is the chance just to be here — together — and to earn their way playing the game they love. “For of us, since Little League, it’s always been a dream to be paid to play baseball professionally,” says Amidon. “It’s a dream come true.”
By Benjamin Witte (firstname.lastname@example.org)