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First Championship Day in Paris
The organization for the Championships was minimal. Terry, my friend visiting from the United States told me he had seen a poster in the 16th arrondissement announcing the finals at Pershing Stadium in the Vincennes woods. He was the only person I met who had seen a poster. It's too bad he didn't rip it down for the archives.
The umpires were not informed of their assignments. At the last minute, Gilbert spontaneously took charge. He called me to ask if I would be ready to take a game or two of either the Seniors or the Minimes (nine to twelve year olds). Both finals would be held the same weekend in an adjoining field.
Normally the Federation should have handled play-off organization and the Commission handled umpire assignments. The President, instead of organizing publicity, tried to get into the act by circumventing the Commission and imposing a list of umpires. I got a copy of Gilbert's resignation letter in the mail the next day, three days before the finals. I called him to urge him not to resign.
His reaction paid off and the President backed down. I got the first two games of the three-game Minimes play-offs and Gilbert appointed four umpires for the three games of the Senior play-offs with himself as "Supervisor". The supervisor organizes and comments on umpire performance. He makes a written report to the commission and recommendations for promotions and training for next year.
The worst summer weather in years in France had led to an unusual situation. Saint-Lo defeated Paris University Club in three games and had moved on to the semi-finals against Montpellier, who had defeated Melun (Savigny-le-Temple) in two games. Montpellier finished off Saint-Lo in two games.
Pessac (a suburb of Bordeaux) defeated Toulouse in two games in the quarterfinals. But Savigny-sur-Orge lost to Rouen in the first game of the quarterfinals and were then rained out. The next weekend while Saint-Lo and Montpellier were in semi-finals, Savigny-sur-Orge came back in their quarterfinal play-off to beat Rouen in the last two games. The next weekend Savigny-sur-Orge met Pessac in the semi-finals and split a game apiece before being rained out in the third game.
The finals had to be played the next weekend, so obscure Federation rules were put into force to settle the Savigny-sur-Orge vs. Pessac standoff: Savigny was declared winner because they had fewer runs scored against them in the play-offs. Savigny would thus meet Montpellier in Paris for the Senior Finals. Saint-Lo and Pessac would meet later for third place. My Saturday with the Minimes began in the afternoon with Hervé behind the plate and me on base. Minime exceptions to the rules are:
- Base runners cannot leave a base to steal until the ball has crossed the plate. For the finals, we agreed with the coaches that this should be modified so that no runner could leave a base until the ball hits the catcher's glove.
- The batter is out on the third strike whether the catcher catches the ball or not.
- A game lasts five innings, or four innings if the point spread is ten or more. If the game goes beyond one and a half hours, the next inning will be the last inning.
The first game was between Savigny-sur-Orge and Le-Passage-d'Agen, a village in the south of France between Bordeaux and Toulouse. How this tiny spot noted for its prunes and raisins got into the finals of French baseball is a story I still want to hear. I accept it as my next reporting assignment.
Le-Passage dominated from the very beginning. I had a hard time on base finding the proper position. The distance between bases is reduced about a third for Minime baseball, so it is impossible to follow a play from the infield when you umpire on base. When you take a position in the outfield you can see base runners better, but you are too far from first or third to make a proper call. It took some getting used to. During regular season play there is never more than one umpire for a Minime game and he stands behind the pitcher. This was big-time baseball, the French Championships, and we put on a show for the players.
Hervé called the game after four innings with Le-Passage winning sixteen to two. I took the plate in the next game with Philippe umpiring on base. The second game pitted Paris University Club against Le-Vigan, a village half the size of Le-Passage located between Toulouse and Marseilles.
It was a game to be remembered. There were three hundred screaming fans along the baselines with flags and air horns. The playing field had been traced out on a track and field court. Some crowd-control fences had been erected by the City of Paris to define the infield, with a picket fence in the outfield. All was Minime regulation size (short) except there was almost no room between the infield and the crowd. The parents were practically breathing down my neck at the plate. My partner on the bases was within spitting distance of the fans.
Le-Vigan pulled ahead four to nothing in the bottom of the second. Paris came back with two runs in the third, then two more in the fourth to tie the score. Even though we were over the time limit, we went on into the fifth inning. Next-door the Senior championships had begun, but the fans were watching the Minimes.
Paris scored four runs in the top of the fifth and Le-Vigan was unable to score with the bases loaded in the bottom of the last inning. As I was changing back into my street clothes in a tent set up for the occasion behind Le-Vigan's bench, I could hear their coach. "What are you guys so sad about? You just missed beating the City of Paris. You scared the daylights out of them!" Le-Vigan went on the next morning, however, to capture third place easily, fifteen to seven against Savigny. Hervé and Philippe umpired, but couldn't avoid a fight with Savigny's coach.
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