Little in Oscar Bustamante’s baseball trajectory has worked out according to plan. But from where he stands now – ready to embark on a journey from South Florida to southern France – the affable 25-year-old wouldn’t want it any other way.
Awaiting him is a chance to play shortstop for the Montpellier Barracudas, one of the D1 league’s top teams, where he’ll join a talented core of young French players, a deep pitching rotation led by Venezuelan import Kevin Canelón, and even a good friend, fellow American recruit Steve Anderson.
“It’ll be a whole new scenery,” Bustamante, who was born in the United States but to Venezuelan parents, told Le Baseblog in a phone interview from his home in Boca Raton, Florida.
“I’ve never been to that part of Europe. I’ve never been in that culture. And the way Steve described it, saying how great the culture is, that it’s a great team, a great bunch of guys…I’m just excited.”
Calling it quits
What makes the moment sweeter still is how far-fetched all of this would have seemed to him just a few years ago, when Bustamante, after struggling to make his mark at the U.S. collegiate level, made the painful decision to leave baseball behind.
Injuries had taken their toll, as had the constant pressure and deep frustration that come with limited playing time. As a freshman at Lynn University, in his hometown, Bustamante appeared in only nine games, and in just 13 at bats, failed to record a single hit.
The following year the young Floridian transferred to another school, in a different state, but as far as baseball was concerned, he felt like he’d hit a brick wall. It was the end, Bustamante decided, of a path he’d pursued since childhood.
“South Florida is a baseball hub. It’s warm all year, so that’s all we do here: play baseball,” he said.
“I think I started when I was like in tee-ball, four or five years old. And just played my whole life… I have three older sisters. All three of them play softball, so I didn’t even really question it. When it was my turn to play I just started playing.”
It can’t have been an easy transition. And yet, hanging up his spikes also felt like an escape at that point. A necessary evil.
“I didn’t even want to look at baseball anymore,” Bustamante confided. “ I was done with it. I never wanted to play again. I was just finished.”
“Never,” as it turned out, would last just two years. Not that Bustamante had any idea at the time. All he knew the was that he needed to stop, and looking back now, he’s grateful he did, because when the urge to play again did enter his mind, he pursued his next opportunity with a refreshed sense of purpose and, more importantly still, joy!
“One day I think I was just bored in quarantine,” he said, harkening back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I knew my neighbor had played in Italy, and I thought, ‘Hey, that seems pretty cool.’ I’d watched a few games and thought, ‘Hey, I think I can do this. I don’t see why not.’ And then I came across the whole Baseball Jobs Overseas scene.”
BBJO, for short, has helped match countless players, both men and women, with teams in Europe and elsewhere, and it was through them that Bustamante found an opportunity, in the summer of 2021, to play for the Wiener Neustadt Diving Ducks in Austria’s Bundesliga 1st Division.
Austria proved to be a perfect landing spot. Bustamante made close friends, had the opportunity to discover a new city, travel, and of course play baseball again – and play well. In 16 games, he batted .404 for the Ducks, boasted the league’s best on-base percentage (.564), and helped lead the team to its first league title.
“It started off as, ‘Maybe I’ll go have one summer in Europe, and explore, and baseball is a way to go over there,’” he said.
“But then it turned into, ‘Hey, I need to do this a couple more times, because not only did I enjoy playing so much but it brought back my love for baseball, which I desperately needed, because imagine, I’d spent my whole life doing it and then, to leave on a foot I wasn’t happy with… It brought me back to a place where I really enjoy the game again.”
Last summer Bustamante returned to Europe, this time accepting an offer to play in Germany, for the the Mannheim Tornados, in the Bundesliga Sud. With an even longer season and in a more competitive league, he again excelled.
Better than ever
The utility player’s on-field success didn’t come about by accident. Bustamante takes these opportunities seriously. He trains hard. And he’s playing with confidence. Baseball’s fun again.
In his conversation with Le Baseblog, the athlete shared another insight into what European baseball can offer: a chance for players – whose careers would otherwise have ended in their early 20s, if not sooner – to test their skills as full fledged adults, with all the additional physical and mental development that comes with it.
“I realize the older I’m getting, the better I’m getting at baseball. I’m getting stronger. I’m becoming more of a man now,” he explained.
“When I stopped I felt like I was still a kid in that sense. Now I’m bigger. I’m stronger. I’m faster. I’m more mature in my head, which allows me to be better at the game, so I’m processing the game of baseball better.”
All of that bodes well for his new team, which finished third in the D1 last year after losing (again) in the playoffs to the eventual league champions, the Rouen Huskies.
The Barracudas – now with Bustamante on board – will be looking to climb even higher in the standings this year. The new shortstop, for one, can’t wait, and with Opening Day (March 19) now just three weeks away, he won’t have to much longer.