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Published: April 2nd 2008
Terrain de Montpellier
Notice the 'grass infield' and the dirt outfield.
When I arrived in Montpellier I had as one of my goals tracking down the baseball team here and finding their stadium.
My first encounter with the Montpellier Barracudas came last summer in Amsterdam. They were competing in the same European Cup that the Kaunas Lituanica team was, and we were to play them on the final day of the tournament if bad weather had not prevented us from playing the games. In fact Kaunas needed to win against Montpellier to earn a rebirth in the A pool European Cup, and the cancelled match meant we automatically would drop down to the b pool. This is the way it goes with semi-pro baseball in Europe—everyone has day jobs (everyone but the foreign players) and thus the tournament must end on the weekend. If the games are not completed, then they are not completed.
Where was I: oh yes. My goal of tracking down the Barracudas.
Three times during my stay in Montpellier I set out on a run with the intention of finding the Montpellier Barracudas baseball stadium. The first time was a desparate attempt to try to connect with the team, after hearing no response from them
via email or phone. I was hoping to be able to attend practices with the team while in Montpellier.
I headed East (when I should have been heading Northeast) and after 45 minutes arrived at Le Cres, a quaint little town with lots of soccer fields and tennis courts—but no baseball field. On the long run to and from Le Cres I passed several sports complexes, but no baseball field.
I returned home, cold and exhausted. The next day I came down with a cold, I think from running in cold weather.
Two days later, I attended a Barracudas practice. I was picked up by Jean-Michel, one of the players for the team and a coach for the younger teams. He drove me to and from practice, and though it was my first time going to the stadium, I felt I had a pretty good handle on the way to get there.
Before my next run, I did some research. I looked on Google Earth and Google Maps to memorize the route to the stadium. I realized that on a different run, when I first arrived in Montpellier, I had actually followed a similar route.
So after a few blinks and looking over the route several times, I headed out onto the street confident I would succeed.
Somewhere on my way I made a wrong turn, though, and once again I found myself lost. I ended up in the ‘Parc Zoologique,’ which is the French’s fancy way of saying ‘Zoo.’ It was at the top of a large hill. In my delirium and fatigue, I almost decided to go into the zoo and look around. It was a free zoo! Which I had never seen before, and I felt I should take advantage. Then I woke up and realized it was raining, it was cold, and I was atleast a 45 minute run from home. I headed back down the hill.
On my final run, on my final day in Montpellier, after having taken a tram twice to the stadium to attend practices, I successfully ran all the way to the stadium. It took me 25 minutes, much less time than either of my lost runs. It was cold and very windy when I arrived. The baseball field was deserted. The field is 100% dirt--no grass-- which I have never seen before, so literally
it feels like a desert. And the Montpellier team was away in Claremont-Ferrand playing their first matches of the season.
On the adjacent field there was an American game being played. It was halftime, and as I walked up to the field the home team cheerleaders were making their way out onto the field and into formation to begin their halftime performance.
The performance was god-aweful but somehow endearing and bold at the same time. Their routine was set to American Hip hop and Pop rock music, like what was popular in the US five years ago. In my opinion, the choreography was physically very demanding which made the performance all the more awkward. It was demanding for a dance group that simply could not live up to its demands. Seated/kneeling at the goal line, facing her dancers, was the dance coach. It was all she could do to keep still as she watched her dancers. You could feel that she wanted to be out there dancing with her.
The spectators, around 70 or so of them, were standing by the concession stand, outside the locker rooms, drinking hot beverages and cheering the cheerleaders on. They were fully amused and entertained, and embraced them in a way that made me smile.
It felt great to be a fly on the wall, watching this American Football community do their thing. American Footaball in France!!
**On a related note, I just finished a book by John Grisham called ‘Playing for Pizza’ which is about a pro quarterback from the US who goes to Italy to play out his final injury-riddled season, and about his experiences there. It is not a great piece of fine literature, but it is a fine story and is based on several weeks of research Grisham spent with a team in Palermo, Italy. I recommend it for the story and for the insight into what it is like for an American Athlete playing in Europe.
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