Located 40 km south of Paris, the field sits on authentic jerseys wholesale the edge of a nondescript business park and one could easily drive past it without noticing. The stadium is home to the Templiers of Snart, France’s newly crowned baseball champions, and the site of the first ever France International Baseball Tournament.
Japan, Belgium and Holland have come here to play for little more than practice and bragging rights should they pull off a victory, but organisers hope Snart proves to be the fertile ground for French baseball to thrive in.
Contrary to what many may think, the “old ball game” is not new to France. The country’s first baseball federation was founded in 1924 and today’s top tier league has existed for around 50 years. But in the past five decades the sport has failed to win the kind of following European football, rugby or even basketball like baseball, foreign imports enjoy.
The game has seen a slight rise in popularity in recent years. Around 12,000 people men, women and children combined play competitive baseball across the country. Even if that figure is double what it was five years ago, the French Federation of Baseball and Softball (FFBS) knows it must create more excitement, both home and abroad, to keep up the momentum.
Exposure is the key to steady growth, and that is precisely why France has organised the tournament in Snart. The international series is unprecedented in the country, and for many people signals a fresh start for French baseball.
An eclectic and promising group of players is only part of Team France’s strategy to shine at the global level. Leading the troops is ric Gagn, a former Los Angeles Dodger who won the coveted Cy Young Trophy in 2003 as a reliever, and a World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox jerseys in 2007.
Gagn, who retired as a player in 2009, is a Quebecois by birth and now lives in Arizona with his family. The former MLB All Star has accepted the challenge of raising France to be among the best baseball teams in Europe. More specifically, he has been entrusted to guide France to a spot in the next World Baseball Classic in 2017.
Reaching the World Baseball Classic is not a quixotic dream for the FFBS. Held every four years, the 16 team tournament gives countries an extraordinary opportunity to gain visibility in the media and collect money through television royalties.
David Meurant, the FFBS vice president and the director of the tournament in Snart, has no qualms about talking money. The league was around 250,000 euros in debt five years ago. Through hard work Meurant and his colleagues have cut that deficit in half while doubling membership, but the fear of another boom and bust cycle gnaws away at the former player. He is convinced better facilities are the way to generate wider interest in the sport among ordinary French people, which will lead to public funding and sponsors, and in turn to even better fields and stadiums.
The bureaucratic struggles and existential fears of France’s baseball league are real, but they are lost to most fans that have made their way to Snart. Like fans anywhere, they have come only to hear the dry crack of the wooden bat, and watch a brave dash toward home plate.
Stphan, 43, who lives in the nearby town of Saintry, brought his family for its first ever baseball outing. He played 25 years ago as an amateur, but eventually quit baseball for other interests. As he watches France’s right fielder chase down a long pop up, he admits he misses the game. He wondered, would joining an adult league conflict with his work schedule?