Good news, everyone. Opening Day for France’s D1 baseball competition is now just one month away (whoo hoo!) As we reported several weeks ago, the season will debut on March 19, and yes, this time it’s official!
French baseball’s governing body, the FFBS, has released the full 2023 schedule for what will be a 24-game regular season, up from 16 last year. That’s great news for fans of the league’s 10 participating teams, which will again be divided into two pools, albeit with a few adjustments compared to last season.
Here are a few takeaways from the recently released schedule:
The La Rochelle Boucaniers and Toulouse Tigers are joining Pool A this year, where they’ll compete, during the regular season, against the Montigny Cougars, Paris UC and, last but certainly not least, the reigning champion Huskies of Rouen.
Switching over to Pool B are last season’s runners up, the Savigny Lions, along with the Metz Cometz. Theyjoin the Montpellier Barracudas, Sénart Templiers and Nice Cavigal.
The action begins in exactly four weeks, with eight of the teams scheduled to take the field that Sunday. And of those games, the marquee matchup is without a doubt a double-header, in Rouen between the defending champs (the Huskies) and Montigny Cougars.
Rouen, having won SEVEN straight D1 titles (and 16 of the last 17), is once again the team to beat this year. But Montigny (10-6 in 2022) has a habit of fielding some very good teams too, and actually beat the Huskies in two of their four head-to-head games last year.
Another matchup to keep an eye on will take place in La Rochelle, where the Boucaniers host Stade Toulousain.
The Boucaniers were the league’s feel-good story last season, when they posted an impressive 12-4 record and qualified for the semi-finals for the first time in club history. It’ll be interesting to see if the boys in green and gold can pick up where they left off.
But the Tigers are hoping for some success of their own this year, with new recruits — including star infielder Ariel Soriano — and a new manager, Randy Pérez.
Starting May 18, regular-season play gives way to the four-day Challenge de France tournament, to be held this year in Lieusaint, home of the Templiers, and in Limeil-Brévannes.
The winner earns bragging rights, momentum moving forward, and, most importantly, a berth in the following year’s Confederation Cup, one of Europe’s major inter-league club tournaments.
This is the D1’s showcase event, and given how things panned out the past few seasons, it could be up for grabs by any number of teams. Yes, the Huskies won the Challenge last year. But they lost in the 2021 final to Montpellier. And in 2019 (the 2020 Challenge was cancelled due to the pandemic), the title went to the Sénart Templiers.
The best of the best
For last year’s two league finalists, the Huskies and Lions, there will be no rest for the weary given that just two weeks after the Challenge, they’ll have an even taller task to face in their respective European Cup tournaments.
Savigny has an invite to the Confederation Cup, held this year in Croatia, and the Huskies will head at that same moment to the Netherlands, for the European Champions Cup, colloquially known as the ‘A Cup.’
The latter brings together the very best of the best among Europe’s many club teams, including from the highly competitive Serie A1 and Honkbal Hoofdklasse leagues in Italy and the Netherlands respectively.
Joining Rouen in the eight-team tournament, which runs from June 6-11, will be Parma A.S.D (Italy), HCAW Bussum (Netherlands), Untouchables Paderborn (Germany), the Ostrava Arrows (Czech Republic), Draci Brno (Czech Republic), the Bonn Capitals (Germany) and the Amsterdam Pirates (Netherlands).
The D1’s regular season will continue throughout June and July, with make-up games to be held, if necessary, in early August. After that, the top two finishers from each pool move on to the league semi-finals, which begin the weekend of Aug. 19/20.
The top team in each pool will play the other pool’s second-place finisher in a best-of-five series. The winners earn a spot in the league finals, also a five-game-series, which is scheduled to begin on Sept. 9.
One final thing of note about the upcoming season is that once it’s over, the league will be trimmed back to just eight teams. That means that the two weakest teams will have to bid adieu to the D1.
But to make things even more interesting, the league’s eighth-place finisher will also be at risk of relegation. That’s because to stay in the top-division, that team will have to survive a best-of-three showdown against whichever team wins France’s second-division (D2) league.
The “Barrage” series, as it’s known, will take place starting Oct. 15. Spicy!
And that, folks, is all she wrote… for now at least.