Bochy puts France on map as WBC manager

New challenge is family affair for three-time WS champion skipper

March 4th, 2020

Bruce Bochy is managing again, leading his team through spring workouts beneath the brilliant Arizona sky, and there is something reassuring about all of that.

Except for one thing.

He’s changed his name.

“I’m now pronouncing it Boh-SHAY,” Bochy said with a laugh.

The commitment to proper French flair is part of Bochy’s new assignment as manager of Les Bleus in the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers, set to open March 13 at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Ariz.

At this time last year, Bochy was preparing for the last of his 13 decorated seasons as manager of the San Francisco Giants. Now, the three-time World Series champion and likely future Hall of Fame candidate is tasked with placing the French national team among the top two finishers in Pool 1, thus earning a bid to the 20-team field for the 2021 tournament.

Bochy -- born in Bussac-Forêt, France -- took up the challenge after meeting with French Baseball Federation officials last year. France wants to make a strong statement in the tournament, after unsuccessful efforts during the qualifying rounds before the 2013 and ’17 Classics. The opportunity to manage his birth country’s team had immediate appeal to the 64-year-old Bochy, as he considers whether to pursue a future managing job in the Major Leagues.

(By the way, he still hasn’t ruled out that possibility.)

“I made this commitment last year and I’m glad that I did,” Bochy told in a Monday telephone interview, following the team’s first workout at Pima Community College in Tucson. “It’s been a lot of fun just getting to learn about this part of international baseball. These guys love the game. They have passion for it. France hasn’t done very well at this level before, but we hope to turn that around.”

The French federation’s initial roster for the Qualifier, announced this week, includes several players with professional experience:

• Second baseman , who played 110 games for Bochy’s Giants in 2018, is eligible for the team through French ancestry. Hanson, born in the Dominican Republic, is a Non-roster Invitee to Mariners camp.

• Brewers Minor League first baseman Ernesto Martinez was born in Cuba but moved to France with his father, Ernesto Sr., after the elder Martinez played in the top French league and gained residency there. Martinez, now 20, enrolled at France’s national baseball academy in Toulouse after winning the WBSC 15U Baseball World Cup with Cuba in 2014. Originally a pitcher, Martinez signed with the Brewers in 2017 and posted an .802 OPS at Rocky Mountain of the Pioneer League last year.

• The French roster also includes two right-handers with recent professional experience: Jason Alexander, who split last season between the Angels’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates; and Donato Auguste, released by the Cubs after posting a 5.18 ERA in 14 relief appearances last year in the Dominican Summer League. Alexander grew up in California, but his mother, Maryann, was born in Paris. Alexander's brother, Scott, is a Dodgers reliever and could join Team France for next year's Classic. 

“So many [players] have come up to me and said, ‘We’re honored you’re here with us,’ and I tell them, ‘Hey, I’m honored to be here,’” Bochy said. “This is a special opportunity for these young kids. Some of them were a little nervous to talk with me, but the fact that they wanted to show their appreciation meant a lot to me. I’m so impressed by how they’re going about their business and how respectful they are.”

Martinez, who is working out in the Dominican Republic before joining the team next week, said in a Wednesday telephone interview that he’s not sure what to say to Bochy when they meet for the first time.

“I’ve heard he won championships with the Giants,” said Martinez, a 6-foot-6 power hitter. “I’m very excited to meet him, and I’m a little scared about how to react.”

Notably, two members of Team France will be at ease around the legendary manager: bench coach Joe Bochy (Bruce’s brother) and right-handed pitcher Brett Bochy (Bruce’s son).

Joe is four years older than Bruce; the brothers haven’t been on the same team since Little League in Panama, where their father, Gus, was stationed in the U.S. Army. Brett debuted with the Giants on Sept. 13, 2014, as the first MLB pitcher brought into a game by his father.

Brett, 32, appeared in seven career MLB games, with a 2.84 ERA, and hasn’t pitched professionally since 2015.

“Brett’s had a lot of fun with this, too, having a chance to compete on the field again,” Bochy said. “He didn’t step down from playing because of his arm, so we’re hoping he can help us in that bullpen. He wants to hit, too. He’s telling me, ‘I can help you off the bench.’ He’s been taking a ton of swings the last few weeks. We’ll have to see about that.”

Giants third-base coach Ron Wotus, Bochy’s longtime friend and confidante, will join Team France in the same capacity next week. The staff also includes Steve Smith, a longtime third-base coach in the Major Leagues, and Boris Rothermundt, the former French national team pitcher who works as a liaison between the Confederation of European Baseball and MLB.

Bochy has spent time in recent days thinking about his late father, Gus, who died in 1990 after serving in the Army during World War II and the Korean War. Gus grew up in West Virginia as a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, dreaming that he would one day play in the Major Leagues. He was drafted into the military in 1942, retired at the rank of sergeant major in 1969, and never realized his dream of a pro baseball career.

His son did.

“I wish he was here,” Bruce said. “He’d probably ask me to coach and let him manage the team. He would love it.”

Gus Bochy transferred from the Army base at Bussac-Forêt to South Carolina shortly after Bruce’s birth, and the new French team manager laments that he can’t speak with some of his players in their native tongue. Thankfully, the multilingual roster should make for easy translating and smooth communication.

And the emotion Bochy felt this week when donning the blue cap with the script “F” was easily understood -- in any language.

“It was pretty cool,” he said. “To have Joe there with me -- and Steve Smith, who managed me at Triple-A -- was a pretty cool feeling. There’s a sense of pride. We want to get past this round for the first time. It’s cool to be back on the field again, running through some drills.

“This is going to satisfy a little bit of what I miss being on the field. I’m in a good place right now. It’s really good to be back on the field.”