It all started in 1988. After decades in Japanese baseball, Yoshida Yoshio came to France as the head coach of PUC (Paris University Club). In 1990 Yoshida Yoshio became head coach for the French national baseball team as well.
During this same time baseball was growing into an Olympic sport. It had been adopted as an open competition in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and efforts were made on every continent to increase the popularity of the sport. The French Federation asked Yoshida Yoshio to help France make it to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
What changed everything was “mind setting”. Before Yoshio was appointed head coach, French baseball was all about “hitting and throwing”. One may think that’s all there is to it, but in the game of baseball you need to play “sacrifice” as well.
To advance the runners a base player sometimes has to be ready to give themselves up for the benefit of the team. If there is no sacrifice, opportunities will be wasted and this will show in the results.
Yoshida Yoshio had a complete understanding of sacrifice play. He was very successful in it in his playing days. He taught this mindset to French players. This was not easy. Most players refused to follow his instructions asking, “Why do I have to sacrifice myself?”
It took him a long time to teach the players about sacrifice play. Through many games, with teams from 30 other countries, players gradually recognized its importance as they experienced success with the process.
The changes did not happen overnight. During the sixth years Yoshio’s was head coach, the French national team was unable to get through the European preliminary rounds to the Atlanta Olympics. In 1997, Yoshio went back to Japan without having achieved significant success with the French national team. He did continue to be involved with French baseball and has become a bridge between baseball in Japan and France. Finally in 1999, his efforts were rewarded. The French national baseball team finished third in the European Championship.
French baseball gradually improved by building on Yoshida Yoshio’s work. In his honor the French Baseball Softball Federation (FFBS) created an international baseball competition The Yoshida Challenge. In 2015, at the inaugural event, the French team went to the finals. It seemed fitting that, in the first of a tournament named after their Japanese master they advanced by defeating tournament favorites the Seino from Japan.
Yoshida Yoshio’s influence continues to be felt. His disciple, the coach of the French national team, now teaches his players the importance of sacrifice. This shows the enormous, and continuing, influence of Yoshida Yoshio on French baseball.
The 2016 Yoshida Challenge will be held the final weekend in August in Senart, France with four teams competing. France, the International Stars, Germany and The Netherlands will play in preparation for the European Championship, taking place in Hoopdorf, The Netherlands, the weekend of September 16th.