Think Argentina, and any number of things might come to mind. There’s Maradona and Messi, of course. Pampas and parrilladas, perhaps. Evita and empanadas. Guachos and Gardel…
Whatever the list, one thing it’s unlikely to include is baseball. And that’s because Argentina, as everyone knows, is all about fútbol! Argentines are pretty darn good at basketball too. And tennis. And even rugby and polo. Yes, polo.
But baseball? No tanto. And yet… little known fact: The sport does have a presence in Argentina, and a history that dates back more than a century.
According to the website Beisbol Argentino, the first Asociación Argentina de Béisbol was founded in 1925 — just one year after the birth of French baseball’s governing body, the FFBS. And in the 1950s, enthusiasts in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, organized the LMB, a “Metropolitan League” that still operates today.
In the meantime, baseball also made inroads in the country’s rugged interior, including in Córdoba, in the center of Argentina, and Salta, in the far north.
And it was in those two cities, starting five years ago, that participating clubs launched a new and ambitious baseball project called the Liga Argentina de Béisbol (LAB), a semi-pro league whose winner goes on to compete in the Serie Latinoamericana against top teams from Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and elsewhere in the Americas.
The 2021 edition, which began in September — springtime, in Argentina — and wrapped up just a few weeks ago, featured four teams: The Falcons, Pumas, Infernales and Águilas. The Falcons finished in the top stop after a three-game sweep of the Pumas. Both teams are from Córdoba.
Fascinating, right? We think so. But what, you may be asking yourself, does any of this have to do with French baseball? Why, inquiring minds want to know, is Le Baseblog paying more attention to developments in the Pampas than to whatever might be happening in Paris or Perpignan?
The reason is that there are several cool and curious links between the worlds of béisbol Argentino and baseball français, starting with a man who (at least for followers of France’s D1 league) needs no introduction.
Rouen’s not-so-secret weapon has been nothing short of sensational since making his first appearance, in 2019, in France’s D1 league. In two seasons with the Huskies, Camacho, a right-hander, has a ridiculous 19-1 record, with two league titles to show for his efforts.
Originally from Santa Teresa del Tuy, Venezuela, he is currently back in his home country, where he is enjoying a super successful stint with the Leones de Caracas of the Venezuelan pro league, the LVBP. Camacho, who turns 32 next month, finished the regular season 6-1, with a 3.40 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 45 innings pitched.
This is by no means the power pitcher’s first run in the LVBP. He also has experience in the United States, where he played minor-league baseball with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, and in Italy, as a member of both the San Marino and Parma clubs in the country’s Serie A league.
But in addition to all that, Camacho also pitched a season in… you guessed it… Argentina! Recruited in 2018 to play for the Águilas, in Salta, the Venezuelan admits that he’d previously been unaware the country even had a baseball league.
“I was surprised, because the only thing you ever hear about Argentina is football and only football,” Camacho explained in an interview with Béisbol Argentino director Diego Beccacece. “But as the weeks went by, I was impressed with the quality of the players here.”
The LAB, it turned out, was impressed with Camacho’s quality of play too. With a 1.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 56 innings, the Venezuelan earned the Lisandro Corba award, issued each year to the league’s top pitcher.
As previously mentioned, Camacho helped guide the Rouen Huskies this past season to yet another title in the French D1 league, in this case against the Sénart Templiers. It was Rouen’s sixth championship run in a row, but… it wasn’t easy.
The Huskies didn’t seal the deal until the 10th inning of the fifth and deciding game, and part of what made things so difficult was a dazzling pitching performance by another right-hander, Sénart’s Sam Belisle-Springer.
The Quebecer put on a show for the ages in the D1 finals, allowing just a single hit in nine complete innings to win Game 4 and keep his team’s hope alive before grabbing a quick bite to eat and taking the mound again for Game 5 — that same afternoon!
And in that second contest — in this case a head-to-head against Camacho — Belisle-Springer was again phenomenal, somehow going eight more innings and allowing just one run.
The outing capped what had been a fantastic all around season for the Canadian, his first in France. But it wasn’t his only taste of international ball.
The former Concordia University standout also has experience playing in Germany and in the United States. And it was in the latter, while playing in 2017 for a team in Missouri, that he caught wind of an even more unlikely opportunity: pitching in Argentina’s then brand-new LAB.
“My coach at the time happened to be a former teammate of Pablo Tesouro, who was then the president of the Liga Argentina de Béisbol,” Belisle-Springer recently told Le Baseblog. “It was their first year and they were looking for as many pitchers as they could, so [my coach] said, ‘Hey, you want to go play winter ball in Argentina?’ And I was like, ‘Why not?”
The adventure wasn’t always easy. As a member of the Condores, in Córdoba, the French-Canadian had to learn Spanish on the spot. He was also living alone, and looking back now, feels like he didn’t take as much advantage as he could to travel more. But like Camacho, he found the level of baseball to be surprisingly solid.
“I thought the caliber was really good. There were a lot of national team guys playing there, a lot of Venezuelans. A lot of ex minor leaguers. So at the time I thought the competition was really stiff. Granted, I was nowhere near the pitcher I am today, so I’d be curious if I went back now how different it would be,” Belisle-Springer added.
“I had a good season, but I feel like I’d be better now.”
(to be continued…)