After watching the San Antonio Spurs hold off the Golden State Warriors 87-79 Saturday evening, mostly by mugging Stephen Curry on the court and holding him to an anemic one-for-twelve in three-point shots, I read until about midnight-thirty. Then I tuned in MLB-TV in search of a taped Major League spring game I could watch for a bit before signing off.
Instead of Major Leaguers, what MLB-TV was serving up at that late hour was a World Baseball Classic game between Panama and France. Yea, I know, French guys playing baseball is hard to get the mind around. As soon imagine an armadillo wearing a tuxedo. But on the evidence of the couple of innings I watched, team France was about as French as I am, which is not at all beyond an appreciation for the art of Bridget Bardot when I was a lad, and a taste for a nice cognac after dinner as a grownup.
Team France was in the field when I tuned in, and they turned a couple of infield outs that showed me these guys didn’t just pick up a ball and glove a year or two ago. These guys have gone around the horn for many years. The game was in the fourth with France ahead 3-0, which struck me as odd because they’ve been playing beisbol in Panama for a long time, and at a high level (see Rod Carew, Mariano Rivera, et al.).
When team France came to bat it became a bit clearer why the game was competitive. (By the way, Panama rallied late to win 7-4.) First of all, looking at these guys in the dugout, they appeared suspiciously American. They were chewing, spitting sunflowers seeds (and other stuff), and lounging about in that languid way that we encounter in dugouts across the fruited plain in summer. I’m not a lip-reader, but it didn’t seem that any of these guys were talking through their noses, which seems to be required to get one’s tongue (and nose) around French.
Then came Team France batters and my suspicions grew. The first guy was named Martinez. Good stance. Good short, quick swing. Clearly a ball player. The second batter was a black guy named Felix Brown. (Downtown Felix Brown?) By then I was really sleepy and I retired before a Team France batter named Pierre came to the plate. Examining the Team France roster on Sunday, I see there are numerous French-sounding names. But they were nowhere in evidence for the part of the game I caught.
I don’t know what the standards are for selecting team members. How strong does the connection to the country named on the front of the jersey have to be? Apparently the requirements to play for France have been stretched to include anyone who has ever eaten a croissant or enjoyed a fantasy involving Yvette Mimieux. (OK, these guys are too young to remember the comely Yvette. Perhaps one of the Bond girls, Sophie Marceau?)
From my small sample of WBC action, it would appear that most of the players are Americans or are from south of the border. This makes the games watchable for the baseball savvy. And assures us that one precinct of American cultural imperialism — baseball — is alive and well. “Play ball” cannot be translated into French. And why would anyone want to?
Whuddya bet we see Downton Felix Brown in AA ball this summer? Martinez looks to have a future in the game as well. But not in the Bordeaux League. “He hazz zee queek swing, short to zee ball, n’est-ce pas?” (Picture David Suchet in full Hercule Poirot kit saying this.)