MONTPELLIER — Every year a handful of young French prospects make their way to the United States, often with dreams — however lofty — of going pro. Most begin in community colleges. From there, a few go on to four-year programs.
But what comes after that? What happens when a player goes as far as he or she can go, when the opportunities to play or coach on the other side of the pond run dry?
That’s the scenario Nolan Soliveres faced late last summer when he returned to France after five years in Florida, first at a community college, later as student-athlete at Webber International University, and finally as an instructor at the Fortuna Training Facility near Tampa.
The Fortuna job was one the trilingual 24-year-old really enjoyed. And had circumstances been different, he might be there still.
“I loved that place, and I would have loved to stay, but it was the end of the visa,” Soliveres told Le Baseblog earlier this week during a brief visit to Greg Hamilton Baseball Park, in Montpellier. “It was another door that closed.”
A couple of years earlier, the young Frenchman — one of the country’s brightest baseball talents — had to cope with an even bigger disappointment. Listed for the MLB draft, Soliveres wasn’t, in the end, selected.
But here’s the thing about missed opportunities: When a door closes, another, as they say, is bound to open up. And that, in the end, is precisely what happened for Soliveres — in his hometown of Toulouse no less!
That’s where he recently landed a job in the country’s preeminent baseball academy, the Pôle France Baseball, which he himself attended before taking his talents to Florida.
Not only that, but the city’s baseball club, Stade Toulousian, announced recently that Soliveres will be working for them too, as a coach for the youth teams, and that starting in April, he’ll suit up for the organization’s D1 squad, which finished seventh last year in the 11-team French league.
“As a player, the goals are simple,” he says. “We want to make it to the top of the standings and also win the Challenge de France. I just want to make it to the top.”
Baseball in the blood
Soliveres was born in Paris but moved to Toulouse when he was just three. His return, therefore, is a homecoming in every sense of the word. And it was with Stade Toulousian, all those years ago, that he got his first taste of organized baseball, practicing every Wednesday and Saturday and competing in the same youth categories he’ll now be overseeing as a coach.
But what Soliveres describes as his “baseball culture” also comes from another source: his family ties to Venezuela. That’s where his mother grew up, and where as a kid — before the country’s economic and political situation took such a complicated turn — Soliveres visited regularly, often taking part in summer baseball camps.
Playing in Venezuela, one of the world’s top baseball nations, gave Soliveres an edge that served him well back in France, where in his early teens he was invited to attend the Pôle Espoir academy in Montpellier and later the Pôle France, back home in Toulouse.
From there he earned an opportunity to attend Hillsborough Community College, where he spent two years before transferring to Webber. In the meantime, Soliveres was selected to play for different age categories with the French national team, eventually landing a spot on the senior squad, with which he played this past September in the European Baseball Championships in northern Italy.
That was another opportunity that arrived with his recent return to France, together with a chance, starting in late August, to play for the Montpellier Barracudas, who went on to win the Challege de France tournament before falling to the Rouen Huskies, the eventual D1 champions, in the league semi-finals.
Playing with passion
It was a whirlwind reentry into French baseball, in other words. “A blessing,” says Soliveres. But the experience also came with some bumps in the road. The charismatic catcher struggled at the plate, and in both the Challenge and the European Championships he went hitless.
What Soliveres didn’t lose was the joyful approach he brings to the game. He plays with swagger too, but usually with a big grin on his face. That too is something that comes, he suspects, from his Venezuelan side.
“All I can say is I got it from my mom,” Soliveres says, with a laugh. “I just want to have fun all the time. I love playing this sport. It’s my passion. So I just remind myself every day that I’m doing something that I love.”
That approach served him well, several weeks after the Euros, when the Franco-Venezuelan found himself facing ace Yoimer Camacho in a win-or-go-home scenario against the Huskies.
It was the third game in Montpellier’s best-of-five playoff series against the champs. The Barracudas had already dropped the first two contests and risked being swept. But in that game, Montpellier pitcher Erly Casanova of Cuba threw a gem to keep the Huskies scoreless, and in the seventh inning, against Camacho — who was also pitching a shutout at that point — Soliveres unleashed on a fastball that rocketed over the leftfield fence.
The solo shot gave the Barracudas their only run of the game, but it was enough to give them the crucial win, and hand Camacho, a Venezuelan, his only loss since joining the D1 in 2019.
“I was like 0 for 30 more or less,” Soliveres says of the slump. “But I just never let my head down. I kept grinding, and talking to hitting coaches and stuff. And that made me open my eyes a little, so then yeah… [against Camacho] I was looking for a pitch. I got my pitch and gave it a good swing. I controlled the controllable, and the ball went deep.”
Leading by example
The goal now will be to bring that same fighting spirit — along with his signature joy for the game — to his new team, the Toulouse Tigers. But looking ahead to this next chapter in his career, Soliveres insists that his focus isn’t just on performing for the sake of performing.
He’s also deeply committed to coaching, he says. To being a leader both on and off the field. He wants to take the experience he gained abroad and invest it back into French baseball, and to help guide the next generation of players, both at the Pôle France and within the Stade Toulousain club.
“I’m really glad to be home,” Soliveres says. “Toulouse is where I grew up, and that’s where I want to help develop baseball, as both a coach and a player — for the team, but also for the kids and the fans.”
By Benjamin Witte