Here in France, Opening Day is still more than two months away. Sigh! But if that seems like too long to wait, fear not, because in the meantime, a number of the country’s brightest talents are already getting the call to “play ball.”
We’re talking, of course, about the handful of French players currently enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States, where teams from the Carolinas to California are kicking off their seasons right now.
It’s game on, in other words, and that makes this the perfect time to take stock of what’s happening across the pond and once again showcase some of the prospects trying make their American baseball dreams come true.
This is our third time presenting “Five French Players” in the United States, and once again, it’s important to preface things by saying that this is by no means an exhaustive list of ALL the young “frenchies” testing their talents overseas.
Nor is this a ranking of the best or most successful French players, so for any of the deserving men and women who don’t appear here, apologies. Le Baseblog has nothing but RESPECT for the challenge you’ve taken on.
The one criteria we did use in selecting the following players is to focus on people we haven’t featured in the past. And so, without further do, let’s get on with the article…
Last year’s delayed start to the D1 baseball season was both a blessing and a curse for teams like the Montpellier Barracudas, who had a number of players on their roster currently enrolled in U.S. collegiate programs.
One of those is Ismail Pontiac, who was a major contributor to the team’s early-season success (he batted a sizzling .372, with 20 hits in just 13 games) but wasn’t, unfortunately, available for their October playoff series against the eventual champion Rouen Huskies.
The reason, of course, is a good one: The 21-year-old Perpignan native had to make his way back to Arizona for the start of the school year at Cochise College, in Douglas, just north of the border with Mexico.
The versatile lefty can certainly hit, as he proved last summer with the Barracudas. But as a member of the Cochise College Apaches, Pontiac’s primary role is pitching.
This is his third (and final) year at the U.S. community college where, because the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pontiac earned an extra year of eligibility and is still technically a sophomore (second-year student).
The Apaches began their season this past Friday (Jan. 28) against Colorado Northwestern Community College and already boast a 3-1 record.
Joining Pontiac this year in the Arizona desert is another French pitcher and fellow graduate of the Pôle France baseball academy in Toulouse: Mathias LaCombe.
Two years younger, the right-hander is a freshman (first-year student) at Cochise College. But like his countryman, LaCombe also spent part of last summer playing in the D1 league, in his case for the Stade Toulousain Tigers, in Toulouse.
Originally from the Aquitaine region, the 19-year-old got his start playing for the Pitcher’s Baseball Club in Pineuilh, near Bordeaux. He later played for the Blue Jays of nearby Saint-Aubin, and for Paris UC, in 2020.
With Toulouse last season, LaCombe went 1-1, with two saves and 26 strikeouts in 19-and-a-third innings of action. For the Apaches, he has so far had just one appearance, coming in last Saturday to relieve Pontiac. He allowed just one hit but gave up two walks in two innings.
Another newcomer to the U.S. college scene is Joseph Toubeaux, a position player whose first foray into sports was tennis but transitioned to baseball when he was about 12.
He later developed his skills with the Rouen Baseball 76 club in Normandy, and attended the baseball academy there before earning a place in the national academy, the Pôle France, in Toulouse.
Toubeaux, 18, is now a freshman at Western Nebraska Community College, a two-year school in Scotsbluff, Nebraska, and will get his first taste of action starting Feb. 12, when his new team — the Cougars — open their season against New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico.
Interestingly, Toubeaux is joined in Nebraska this season by a familiar face: pitcher Thibault Mercadier, a fellow freshman and Pôle France alum who discovered baseball during a three-year-stint, as a child, in the U.S. state of Ohio.
Like the Barracudas, the Savigny Lions found themselves a bit shorthanded in last year’s D1 playoffs, which didn’t take place until October, well after the school year began in the United States.
The Lions, you’ll recall, were knocked out in the semis by the Sénart Templiers (three games to one). The two teams stacked up pretty well against each other on the offensive end, but it was on the pitching front where Sénart really had the upper hand.
That’s where Lilian Amoros comes in, and why he was sorely missed after he parted ways with the team to hit the books at Vernon College, in Texas.
He’s only 20 years old (nearly 21), but Amoros is already a force to be reckoned with, as he proved last summer with Savigny, the same club he’s been playing for since he was just seven. In just shy of 40 innings pitched, the right-hander struck out 35 and posted a team-best 1.59 ERA. He also collected three wins (against just one loss), including a no-hitter against Paris UC!
Amoros spent last year at Clarendon College, a two-year school in Texas, playing alongside two other French players: Léo Jiminian and Pierre Emmanuel-Planes.
Amoros and Emmanuel-Planes transferred together to Vernon College, and with their new team, the Chaps, kicked off the 2022 season just last weekend. It wasn’t an ideal start for the squad — they’re 0-2 after dropping a pair on the road to DC Eastfield — but there are plenty more games to play, with lots of room for growth and improvement.
Last but not least on our 2022 list is the aforementioned Léo Jiminian, who also transferred last year from Clarendon College, in his case to East Tennessee State University (ETSU), in Johnson City, Tennessee.
The ETSU baseball team, the Buccaneers, play in the top division of the premier university sports association in the United States, the NCAA. And in joining the squad, Jiminian, a junior (third-year student), became the first French baseball player to reach the Division 1 level in the NCAA.
France also boasts two NCAA D1 softball players: Mélissa Mayeux, a senior (fourth-year student) at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette; and Kimane Rogron, who after two highly successful seasons at Trinity Valley Community College, in Texas, will be playing this year for Texas A&M Corpus Christi, a four-year university.
Jiminian got his start with the Jimmer’s baseball club in Saint-Lô, in Normandy. He has also played for Stade Toulousain and the Sénart Templiers, and this past summer, appeared in two games for the Savigny Lions, collecting three hits in just seven at bats. Later he joined the French national team for the European Championships in northern Italy.
The speedy outfielder had a sensational final season (2021) at Clarendon College, batting .399 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs in 53 games.
Jiminian and the ETSU Buccaneers kick off the 2022 campaign on Feb. 18 with a three-game home stand against Northern Kentucky. Next they’ll travel to Blacksburg, Virginia to face Virginia Tech on Feb. 22.
[…] College isn’t the only U.S. school to have more than one French player on the same roster. Another is Cochise College, in Arizona, where a pair of French pitchers, Ismail Pontiac and Mathias LaCombe, are both trying to hone […]