The French Division I (formerly known as French Elite League) is opening the 2012 season on Sunday. Defending champion Rouen Huskies travels south to the Montpellier Barracudas for a rematch of last fall’s finals. The promoted Beaucaire Chaveliers square off with record title holder Paris UC. The Pessac Panthers hope for a successfully sophomore year starting with a duel against the Templiers Senart. In the fourth matchup Stade Toulousaine hosts the Savigny Lions. The regular season will be played until July 8. Teams are usually playing nine-inning doubleheaders each game day.
The eight-time French champion Rouen Huskies will enter the new season as usual as the team to beat. They didn’t dominate during the regular season last year, but played their best baseball in the end and celebrated another title. Keino Perez succeeded Robin Roy as manager during the winter. They added a couple of new players for 2012, including Mathew Smith, Dylan Gleeson, Sebastien Dagneau, Chris Mezger, Ethan Paquette and Luis Aponte. Counting all the French national teamers on the roster like Luc Piquet, Boris Marche, Kenji Hagiwara or Joris Bert Rouen can rely on quality and quantity. A few of them like Maxime Lefevre will miss the first part of the season due to attending colleges in North America.
The Montpellier Barracudas played a solid 2011 season and returned to the finals. They will represent France in the European Cup Qualifiers in Namur, Belgium, hoping to clinch a second A-Pool spot. During the preseason the squad of manager Jean Michel Mayeur prepared together with the Mainz Athletics, Beaucaire Chevaliers and the French U18 National Team. As usual their success will rely on the quality of their import players. If their strong they will be among the top teams again.
Playing without a home field in 2011, the Templiers Senart played a strong season, dominating during the regular season before running out of gas in the playoffs. So, their biggest acquisition for this year’s campaign is going to be their new ballpark. The top notch facility with artificial turf should help them to further solidify their development of strong players. They added a couple of young prospects throughout the winter, but will miss the offense of Frederic Hanvi and Felix Brown, who will try their luck in Japan. Manager Jamel Boutagra however has Mathieu Brelle-Andrade and Samuel Meurant to lead the pitching staff.
French Baseball is influenced by Japanese Baseball since decades. The good relationships between the two federations are well known. After their good experience with Daisuke Ikenaga, the Savigny Lions added three players from Japan to the 2012 roster. Outfielder Naoki Shimada, pitcher Kazuki Iwamori and outfielder/first baseman Shin’ichi Miyazaki are supposed to help the team to return to the playoffs. Additionally Ikenaga is going to serve as player-manager of the Division I team. Fabien Proust is going to have his hands full this year with the national team program. Additionally French catching prospect Theo Lakemeche is coming from the Baseball Academy in Toulouse.
After moving up into the top division in French Baseball, the Pessac Panthers had no troubles to defend their spot. However, usually the sophomore year can become more difficult. Head coach Yann Lacoste and veteran Patrice Briones should help to keep them out of the relegation zone in the standings. Their main core from last season is intact and it is going to be interesting, which import players will help them in 2012.
Coaches Eddie Esquivel and Fred Rouge are back to lead last year’s sixth-place finisher Stade Toulousain. They hope to improve and move up a couple of spots, trying to enter the top four in 2012. They added Quentin Pourcel as starting pitcher to the staff with Jonathan Mottay. Also catcher Andy Paz returns after one year with the Oakland Athletics organization. Other key players like Leonel Sanchez Paz, Thomas Dourlens, Jossue Mendoza and Euri Martinez are still with the team.
Under the leadership of head coach Jeff Stoeckel, Paris UC improved heavily in 2011 and is poised to make a run for the playoffs in this season’s campaign. The team could become one of the surprises if their players continue to get better and if their import strategy pans out. Not only is Stoeckel coming back for a second straight year in the French capital, he also was able to add to the roster. Jerome Dussart, Sebastien Duchossoy, James Murrey and Phil Bauer are the four main arrivals for PUC. Additionally Will Musson returns to form a dangerous foreign pitcher due with the incoming Murrey.
The Beaucaire Chevaliers are the new face in town. They won the Nationale 1 league in France and replace the Montigny Cougars on the Division I roster. Obviously they will be the underdogs in 2012, trying to pass at least one team in the standings to secure their Division I participation for 2013. During the preseason they played a small tourney in Montpellier, losing to the Mainz Athletics, the French U18 team, while winning only against the Barracudas. Former Rouen Huskies hurler Giovanni Ouin is probably the best known player on the roster. Jacob Welsh is slated to be their key player on offense.