Get within earshot of any dugout in the D1, France’s top-division baseball league, and you’re likely to hear a crazy mix of languages. French, obviously. But also Spanish, English and who knows, maybe even a bit of Portuguese or Japanese.
The multilingual chatter is testament, obviously, to just how international the sport has become. But it also speaks to the importance that foreign players (and coaches) have within the French league.
Every team has its allotment of “imports,” as foreign recruits are also known. And before testing their luck in France, they invariably enjoyed success in their countries of origin, places, for the most part, where baseball is more prevalent and competative than in it is here.
It’s no surprise, then, that such players often have an outsized impact on the D1, especially those that settle in with their respective teams and play multiple seasons. Guys like Forrest Crawford (USA) of the La Rochelle Boucaniers, Savigny’s Ivan Acuña (Venezuela) and Yeixon Ruíz (Dominican Republic), and Felix Brown (Sint Maarten) and Alex Perdomo (Venezuela) of the Sénart Templiers come to mind.
Others stay in France for just a season or two, either as a last hurrah before hanging up their cleats for good, or as a spring board to new opportunities elsewhere.
Catcher Andy Cosgrove (USA), who played for the Montpellier Barracudas last season, will take his talents to London this year. Pitcher Sam Belilse-Springer (Canada), a sensation in 2021 for the Templiers, will play professioally in his native Quebec. Yoimer Camacho (Venezuela), a righthander who dominated in the D1 since joining the Rouen Huskies in 2019, is making the move to Mexico.
It goes without saying that those players will be missed. But it’s also true that such departures open up roster spots for a new group of imports, and it’s to those players that Le Baseblog wants to turn its attention, especially with Opening Day now just six weeks away.
None of the 10 teams that will participate in the D1 season has officially released its roster yet. And when it comes to foreign recruits, some clubs prefer to keep their cards close to their chest, so to speak.
In other words, we don’t yet have a complete list of all the D1’s new import players. But we can, at least, introduce some of them, starting with a young man who was a New York Mets fan growing up and will now have a chance to play for… Metz!
Markus Melendez, Metz Cometz
One of several foreign recruits headed this year to the Metz Cometz club in far northern France, Melendez grew up in the United States, in Connecticut, but also has ties to Sweden, where he won a league championship in 2020 with the Sölvesborg Firehawks before joining the Swedish national team in 2021.
Last year, the 25-year-old catcher played in Germany’s Bundesliga Sud, batting .309 for the Ulm Falcons, with 17 hits in 18 games. And in 2019, before taking his talents to Europe, he played for Moose Jaw Miller Express, in the Western Canadian Baseball League.
Melendez’s stint with Moose Jaw followed a successful university carrer at Mitchell College, an NCAA Division 3 school in his home state of Connecticut, where he played all four years. As a senior (fourth-year student) in 2019, the starting catcher batted .324, with 48 hits (and 52 runs scored) in 42 games.
“It’s just the right fit,” Melendez explained in a recent interview with his new team, the Cometz, who finished eighth (7-13) of the 11 teams last season. “I felt like the core of players along with the additions the organization has made this offseason has put the team in a great spot and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Héctor Velasquez, Sénart Templiers
Another newcomer to the D1 this year is Héctor Velasquez. But the 36-year-old Venezuelan is no stranger to European baseball as a whole, having spent a decade already on this side of the pond, much of it in the Spanish Baseball League (formerly the División de Honor).
An infielder who can also pitch, Velasquez has a wealth of experience. Before coming to Spain, in 2011, he spent time in the Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional (LVPB), which has a number of connections to French baseball. And since then, he has also played in the Polish, Austrian, Slovenian and Italian leagues, collecting more than 300 hits overall and consistently batting over .300.
With Sénart, he’ll be joining a team that came oh-so-close last year to a winning the D1 title. The Templiers lost to the Rouen Huskies in the 10th inning of the fifth and final game of the league finals. They were also runners up in 2019.
“I like the idea of playing for a team that’s always fighting to be on top,” he told the Templiers in a recent interview. “I had other offers, but my heart told me to choose [Sénart].”
Steve Anderson, Montpellier Barracudas
Like the two men mentioned above, Steve Anderson, 30, has also spent time in quite a few countries, though more so as a businessman rather than a ball player. That’s because in 2018, as reported by the recruiting agency *Baseball Jobs Overseas, he started a consulting business that has taken him from the Americas to Asia and many places in between.
But just because he has a nose for business doesn’t mean he can’t play ball. A four-year starter at Georgetown University, in the highest level (NCAA D1) of U.S. collegiate sports, the power-hitting Anderson hit .344 his senior season, when he was named team MVP and led the entire Big East conference in slugging percentage.
That was quite a few years ago, granted, but in 2021, hungry still to test his talents, Anderson suited up for the Fredericton Astros in the Capital City Intermediate Baseball League, in Canada, and let it be known right away that he’s still got it! In 19 games, he hit .457 with five home runs and 16 RBIs en route to earning the Rookie of the Year honors.
How will that translate in France’s D1 league? Only time will tell, but the Montpellier Barracudas, third place finishers in 2021, are confident that the American import will be a difference maker and help lead them, hopefully, to their first championship since the mid 1990s.
(Stay tuned: In the coming weeks (time permitting), Le Baseblog plans to showcase more D1 recruits)
*All three of the players highlighted in this piece were recruited via Baseball Jobs Overseas.