I arrived at the Rouen Gare late on Friday night, around 1230 pm. Tony and Olivier met me at the train station; they had just finished an evening Jam Session at Olivier’s place. They are forming a band and have started working on a few songs—including Green Day’s ‘Good Riddance’ and a song by ‘The Calling…’ Olivier is one of the many guys on the team who is incredibly proficient in English but I had no idea because we were always speaking in French. It is cool to hear these guys speak English.
We went back to Tony’s place—a flat in a township near Rouen where he sublets a room from a woman in her forties who has two grown kids and thus several empty rooms in her house. She had thoughtfully prepared the sofa for me and given it sheets and a pillow (notice a trend? Another couch for me to sleep on….....
We stayed up until 3 am talking about random stuff. I showed Tony the video about lithuanian baseball and he was sold. He now wants to come to lithuania to play. 😊
Saturday we went to the field. After a light toss, we set to
drawing the baselines and batters' box, and preparing the field for the game. There was a Cadet match (13-15 year olds) and we helped out coaching their game. I mostly watched, while Tony coached first base and Eric Coutu (who plays for the adult team and coaches the Cadets) coached third.
The team won by one run in the final inning in a game that was a total blowout. The catch was that at this age there is a 5-run limit per inning until the final inning. The other team hit that limit in almost every inning as we were able to put up just a few points per inning. Then in the final inning the other team did not manage any runs; in the bottom of the inning they put in another pitcher who could not throw the ball close to the zone. He walked many, hit several, and everytime he managed to get one close to the plate we hit it.
After a barrage of runs, my guess is 12 or so, we found ourself tied with one of our weaker hitters at the plate. His name is Theo—he is a tall lanky boy with spiky
two fellow travellers who were also waiting for the bus situation to be sorted out.
hair. He was hit by the first pitch he saw, scoring the winning run from third base.
There was one Kodak moment in the Cadet game that I will remember for a long time. Ellen was the star of this moment: she is one of two girls who play for the cadet team. I first met her last season, and I remember her as being one of the less skilled players on the team. She was not very coordinated, was a bit slow and was not very athletically built. She was a bit afraid of the ball as well—naturally because she had little experience playing baseball. But she always tried extremely hard, listened to her coaches and encouraged her teammates. She was always smiling and contributing a positive energy to the team.
one of the first things I noticed in returning to the team this time was Ellen’s improved skills, and even more notably, her increased confidence and comfortableness on the field. Though she was still one of the least athletic players on the team, she was no longer the least skilled.
All of this is to say that in the game Ellen reached base twice, once on a walk and another time on a slow grounder. The second time she was on base, first base to be exact, the hitter hit a long drive to left field. She took off for second and seeing the third base coach giving her the windmill motion, she continued on to third. To her surprise, I think, he did not tell her to stop. He told her to keep running to home. At this point the whole team was on their feet yelling and screaming. Ellen was panting and running as hard as she could for home, and with each step she seemed to lose speed. For a brief moment I was sure that she was going to trip and fall because of the unsteadiness of her final few steps. I held my breath and finally exhaled and gave out a loud shout when she touched home plate. Everyone came out to congratulate her. She made her way through the team and on to the bench, taking a seat next to me, reached into her bag, pulled out a ‘Burn’ energy drink and chugged half of it.
There was something extremely bizarre yet endearing yet also confusing about 14 year old Ellen with her Energy drink, struggling to catch her breath between gulps.
Saturday evening we went to Eric Coutu’s house in Neufchatel, about 40 kilometers outside of Rouen. It was a small party with Eric’s family, Tony and Myself, Olivier and his girlfriend, and Chris and family (Chris is an American whose son plays for the toddler team and who last year began practicing with the men’s team and now plays for the Woodchucks first team). It was a great evening. Eric brought beer from Canada, I brought a Rosee wine from the Anjou region where we were rehearsing. We cooked out on the grill and played horseshoes. Eric gave us a tour of his house, which he has been working on for the past two years and is really magnificent. From nothing more than a live-in barn he has created a beautifully designed yet comfortably family-esque house. I really admire folks who build or fix up their own house. That is something I would love to do one day.
As we stood there in the side yard playing a friendly (yet competitive) game of horseshoes, laughing at the game and at stupid little things, I turned to Tony and said ‘I’ve got a good feeling about tomorrow’s game. How about you?’
Sunday's game: Woodchucks vs. Savigny
I again was on the hill for the first match of the doubleheader. I have found that when there is a doubleheader to be played, or even two games in two days, I like to pitch the first one. I somehow feel fresher if I throw the first one, more mentally than anything else, and then once I have pitched the first game I really feel like I can let loose for the second game (ironically I always hit much better when I pitch, but I think that is just because the first game I usually have more energy).
Though Savigny was not nearly as strong of a team as Montigny, they were a solid team with several guys who played well. They were very small, unimposing as a collective, but they played very solid defense. I pitched 5 innings in the first game giving one earned run, and we won by the 10-run rule. The other team seemed to be off a step, maybe because of the heat or maybe it was something else. I threw no-hit ball through the first four innings before they got three hits off of me in the fifth inning. Bernie caught the whole game. He really did a great job behind the dish.
Marc, Canadian, started the second game of the doubleheader. He was coming off an arm injury that had kept him from throwing for several weeks. From the get-go it was clear that the other team had no gas left. They only hit two balls out of the infield the whole second game, and were only able to manage two runs. Of course we did not start much better, and the score was stalled at 4-2 going into the 5th inning. We ended up winning by a slightly wider margin.
Both games ended bizarrely. In the first inning we took the field to begin the sixth inning, and then the scorer said that we had won and the game was over since we were winning by ten runs after five innings. The scoreboard showed 11, but apparently it was in fact 12-2. The other team contested even though there was nothing really to contest. We had won the game.
In the second game, got the last out in the top of the 7th to end the game (we were the home team and in the lead) and ran in claiming victory. The other team contested that it was only the 6th inning. They said we had one more to play. The confusion was because the scoreboard showed it to be the sixth inning. Jean-Luc had forgotten to put up the sixth inning totals.
What strikes me about baseball in France (and lithuania) is that these bizarre situations happen EVERY game in some form or another, whereas in the US they are things you might experience only a few times per season.
Second game: sometime during the game a doctor showed up for the game and said that he was there to conduct random drug testing enforced by the French Baseball Federation. This was a total surprise, since it is very rare for there to be testing in the Nationale division (the second division) in France. Some of our guys (whom I will not name) were worried that they would be one of the four chosen for the test, yet in the end all four of the guys chosen from our team was 'clean.' I can tell you, though, that ironically the only folks in France who have tested positive on a doping test were positive for Marijuania, not steroids. It is safe to say that the 'steriods in baseball' epidemic has not made its way across the Atlantic Ocean, rather that these random doping tests are more of a preventative measure.
When Jean-Luc came into the dugout to announce the players who had been chosen for the random drug test, the team erupted as if we had won the championship. There was quite an energy in the dugout. Tony began chanting ‘Woodchucks, Woodchucks!!” It was hilarious. The four chosen (Olivier, Sylvain, Samuel, et Pierre) did not seem random at all in fact. The four of them are four of our weaker players, and Samuel and Sylvain never even play.
We showered in the fancy locker rooms because our locker rooms (which are not bad, but not the newer ones) were being used for the doping tests.
I went back to Jean-Luc’s house to have a quick dinner before booking it to the train station to catch my train back to Angers.
Quick story from the train: there was work being done on the train in the last part of the journey from Paris to Angers, so I was to get out at Le Mans and catch an autocar (bus) from there to Angers. A trip that by TGV train would take 30 minutes but by bus is an hour and a half. When I surfaced outside the train station I was surrounded by a huge crowd who were all waiting to get on the bus to Angers. The problem was that the bus was already full. They had underestimated the number of folks travelling to Angers that day. I have no idea how this can happen….how do you not know how many folks have bought tickets? And we are not talking a few people off the mark. It took a whole second bus to take all of us to Angers. At first it was unclear if the second bus would come. There were rumors that they were going to, if need be, send us all to Angers by taxi. Can you imagine? 50 or so separate taxis all headed to Angers. That would be an expensive miscalculation on the part of SNCF.
There were three camps among those of us waiting for the bus: those who sad nothing and just waited wordless and emotionless for the solution to come, those who were absolutely infuriated and in disbelief that this was happening, and those of us who were laughing at the absurdity of the situation. I was in the third boat.
After a 45 minute wait a second bus arrived to take the rest of us to Angers. I arrived back at the apartment in Angers at 1:30 PM. Sleep by 2. !
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