Every baseball and softball fan knows to have a great team you need leadership behind the plate. In France, the Toulon Comanches have depended on Camille Riera as the strength behind their battery since 2011.
The team is currently in 1st place with a 13-0 record and Riera is a large part of their success. She’s hitting .538 in 39 plate appearances with 25 runs, 21 hits, 4 doubles, 7 triples and 19 RBIs. And she has a 1.000 slugging percentage. She’s walked 4 times, been hit by a pitch twice and has yet to strike out… and she’s not alone. Fellow teammates Raina Hunter, Celine Lassaigne and Sandra Dymowiez, who have all had at least 25 plate appearances, have yet to record a K in their respective batting columns.
On defense, Riera is equally dominant with a 1.000 fielding percentage, meaning she has yet to commit an error, and 61 putouts, including the one person who attempted to steal against her.
EBSM sat down with Riera, along with her teammate and manager Celine Lassaigne, for a chat about Riera’s career.
Since 2008, the Toulon Comanches have dominated women’s softball in France. They have won nine straight championships and are looking to make 2017 their 10th. With a 13-0 start to the season, they’re right on track. We asked Lassaigne what the secret of their success is, “It’s quite simple. We have the best players,” she said.
Clearly, but how do you make them because it’s not the same team for 10 years.
It’s basically the chemistry. We always have 6 or 7 players who are on the national team and then that attracts other players. Then it’s just a matter of chemistry. When you play on a team with athletes that are better than you, it just pushes you to be better than you would be on another team. Our pitching staff is the best in France as well, so it does help.
How do you keep the team conditioned so they continue to improve as players when there is little competition from your league?
The thing is 80% of our team is actually on the national team which means they kind of have like a double season. They play with the home team and then, on the side, they have probably five big tournaments, plus the European Championship, that they have all year long. This means, even though maybe right now the teams they are playing in France are not the best competition ever, they can keep up, and get better and better, because they play those big competitions with the national team. And our team, we are playing for the European Cup at the end. That’s our main goal. That’s the thing we train for as well. National team success and the European Championship.
Lassaigne is not only the manager and a teammate of Riera, she’s also the manager for the French national team.
Riera catches for the national team as well.
How did you get involved with playing softball?
There was a team in my school when I was young, and I had a friend that played baseball, so I started with baseball. I started softball when I was 19.
Why did you switch sports?
Women can’t play baseball for Europe after age 16, that’s why I started softball.
If you were allowed to play either sport which would you pick and why?
Now I really prefer softball. The game is faster.
Did you catch in baseball as well?
No. I was a pitcher when I was young. I played 2nd base, sometimes shortstop, but now nothing but catcher.
Did you start in softball as a catcher?
I started at shortstop and played 3rd. After a few years I became a catcher and have been one for 9 years.
What’s your favorite part of being a catcher?
I like to make the calls.
What are your softball goals moving forward?
I want to continue to play for the national team for as long as I can. With the Comanches I want to continue to play this year and maybe for the next European Cup we will be the best team.
Do you have Olympic hopes?
It will be a dream but I know, for France, it will be really hard for us at the end to win.
What about playing softball is the most fun for you?
I like being with my teammates, our relationship. We travel a lot when we went to the Czech, and last year we were in Canada in Surrey, I like that. [Her voice lightens as she finishes] I like the game. I like playing each part of the game. When I’m on the field I’m just happy.
That feeling you have on the field, do you get that in anything else you do?
No. In my life I have good moments but it’s not like being on the field or winning the game or making a big hit, nothing like that.
Are you personally very competitive or do you just enjoy the game?
Yes, I am very competitive because I enjoy the game, if I win.
So maybe that’s why you’re not a pitcher anymore.
Is there something you know you couldn’t have accomplished without the game?
Softball helped me open up to other people, mainly my teammates. It has allowed me to grow my leadership role on the team and in life. It has made me more of a leader than I would have been if I hadn’t played softball.
How have you used those leadership skills off the field?
It’s more on a personal level. I was quite quiet and that is something that changed a lot. It made me open up socially. This has had an impact on my whole life - my work, what I can achieve, who my friends are - everything.
Was there something specific to softball that ignited the change?
On the field, with experience, I got better so, with experience I felt like I could legitimately lead the group and say things. It built from there.
How do you think your teammates would describe you?
Both women break out laughing before Camille asks, on the field?
I think on the field, I don’t know, I think I’m funny but not on the field.
Coach Lassaigne says, “I would say she’s more of a calm and quiet leader. She is not the leader that is going to shout every two seconds and things like that. She’s more leading her pitching. She’s calm. She’s reassuring. This is the type of leader she is and, the way I would describe her off, well on the field as well… she’s a funny but really sarcastic person so she really has a French sense of humor, so sarcastic but a really kind person.
Does she have a quick tongue, meaning she's fast with a good-natured response or a sharp tongue, meaning her response can sting a bit?
She’s half sharp, half quick. She picks the people she can have a sharp tongue with.
Camille, what’s the 2017 event you’re most looking forward to and why?
The European Championship because we would like to be in the top 6.
8 of the 15 national team players come from Comanches. Ranked 24th in the world by the WBSC, France is in group A of the Women’s European Championship, being held June 25-July 1 in Italy. To make it to the top 6, they’ll have play their way out of their bracket, which includes Italy (#12), in one of the top two spots. If they make that happen, they could face off against the winner’s of Czech Republic’s (#13) bracket. After that they would be able to skip over the Netherlands’ (#8) pool until the final round but, they’ll still need to make it through Great Britain’s (#14) bracket to earn their chance at the top.
Time will tell how the Comaches warm up to their 2nd season. No matter the outcome, there is little doubt Riera will be behind the mask. The only question remains, will she be smiling because she loves the game or because that wicked French humor has gotten the better of her?