PUC. Just when it looked as if PUC would qualify for the playoffs, and playing much more aggressively than it had in previous seasons, things kind of fell apart. Looking back on the season, what’s your reaction? How would you size things up?
JS: My goal from the beginning of the season was to get my guys to understand the game of baseball better, and to play the game aggressively. In terms of wins and losses, I did not have a concrete goal for the team other than improving our record from last year. We absolutely achieved both of those goals. Paris UC had a terrible season last year, and we didn’t have six of the top players from that team on the roster this year. Additionally, we were unfortunately hurt by some very key injuries during the season. All things considered, I am very proud of my team for accomplishing what they did. Last season, we were 3-21. This season, including the Challenge de France and 2 preseason games, we were 12-21.
PUC. What are we missing, what do we need in order to reach the playoffs and compete with the best teams for the championship?
JS: The answer to this question is not simple. If I had to point out two of our major weaknesses as a team it would be our pitching and our athleticism. We were last in the league in pitching, and relied too much on our foreign pitching to help us win games. The best teams in this league have solid French pitching, and until we manage to develop our French pitching, winning will be difficult. Concerning our athleticism as a team, we suffered in the outfield and on the base paths because of our lack of speed and versatility. I am a coach that likes to play baseball aggressively, and in order to do this, we need to improve our athleticism.
PUC. Generally speaking, what do you make of the 2011 Elite season? In particular, how would you compare the level of play here with that of American universities?
JS: I had a great time coaching in the Elite division during my first season. The glaring observation is that there is a big difference between the best teams in the league, and the worst teams in the league. For baseball, I do not believe it is a good thing when a league is unbalanced, so I hope the league will be better balanced next season. Compared to the level of play in American universities, I believe there are players in the French Elite division that could perform well at American universities. The biggest difference between American university baseball and French baseball is absolutely the depth of pitching. Every major university baseball program in the United States has someone on their staff that can throw 90+ mph and a solid group of pitchers than on any day can beat any other team. In our league, each team might have 1 or 2 solid pitchers, and then after that the level really drops.
PUC. Among our opponents, which teams or players impressed, surprised or disappointed you?
JS: Impressed : I liked the way that Montpellier played the game. It’s clear that Jean-Michel (Head Coach) demands his players to play the game the right way. Although they weren’t the most talented team, I think they play the game with class and determination. Surprised : I was surprised by the reception I received by all of the opposing teams. I am a foreign coach new to this league, and all of the teams made it a point to openly welcome me to the league and to France.
Disappointed : I do not think I was « disappointed » in anything this season. Instead, I think « confused » would be a better term for how I felt about the mentality of my team against the better teams in the league. It is a fact that there is no team in this league that my team should be intimidated by. None of the teams in the league are unbeatable, and we should never be intimidated by any other team in the league. However, I feel that my team played scared against the better teams in the league.
PUC: What about players on our team?
JS: Impressed : There are 3 names that come to mind when it comes to making an impression on me during my first season : Oscar Saavedra, Maximin Monbeig, and Camille Mesguich. Oscar’s approach at the plate improved throughout the season, and he will become an even better hitter when he sees more pitching with his new approach. Maximin needs to mature a lot as a baseball player, both physically and mentally, but he was a much better pitcher at the end of the year than he was at the beginning of the year. Lastly, Camille, like Oscar, improved his approach at the plate throughout the year and became a much better hitter later in the year. As a catcher, he improved his receiving and game calling with every game. I hope to rely on Camille more in the future as a cornerstone of our team.
Surprised : I was definitely surprised by the play of secondbaseman Francisco Arriagada. Well into his forties, he gave me fantastic effort at practice and during the games. He was easily our most reliable defensive option in the infield, and even came up with a few keys hits. Disappointed : Again, I do not like to think that I was disappointed by anything. If there is any disappointment in my mind, then I should be help accountable as the Head Coach. I will surely work hard to improve our mentality against the more talented teams in the league next season.
PUC. How do you see the play-downs at this time? What are you hoping for?
JS : I told my team that we will treat the play-downs like our « play-offs. » With Paris UC baseball, our goal is always to play the game well, and if we do that, we will win most of the time.
PUC. What, for you, was the highlight or best moment of the regular season?
JS: Our season was difficult because of the off-season losses and in-season injuries. So, for me, when we went 2-2 against Pessac and Toulouse with no foreign pitching and no French catcher, that showed the heart of our team. We beat one of the best pitchers in the league when we beat Briones of Pessac, and we came back from a 2-run deficit to beat Toulouse in extra-innings. Those were great wins for the team.
And the worst?
JS: I do not know if there was a worst « moment, » but I was most frustrated by our team’s lack of confidence against the better teams in the league. Like I said before, there is no team in the league that is so good that we can not beat them, and I want our players to play like they know this.
PUC. In addition to being coach or manager of the Elites, you are also sports director for the entire PUC baseball and softball program. What’s your evaluation of how the other PUC teams did this season?
JS: I am extremely proud of all of the accomplishments of the Paris UC baseball teams. PUC2 has an opportunity to advance a division, PUC3 qualified for the play-offs, U21 won some games despite their inexperience, the Cadets and the Minimes were IDF champions, and the Benjamins had another great season finishing 4th. I bring a new attitude to baseball at Paris UC, and what I am most proud of as Technical Director is how all of the teams took my advice to heart and played baseball with more of a competitive and fair spirit. I want all of our teams to set an example for how to play baseball competitively and with class. We took a step in the right direction this season.