Bert Playing The Game With a French Twist

When Joris Bert was drafted by the Dodgers this past June, they paid so much attention to it in France that they even invoked the name of Tony Parker when they did. Quite a comparison and there was even a little bit of truth in in.

For Bert, like Parker, is a Frenchman drafted by by an American professional team. But that's about it as comparisons go. Parker was a well-known international star when the San Antonio Spurs chose him for basketball. Since then he's gone on to become a huge force for a championship team. And these days he gets as much attention for having married the even more glamorous Eva Longoria of "Desperate Housewives."

Bert, on the other hand, was taken down in the 19th round where only the fact that he' s the first native of his country to ever be drafted in baseball, got him any attention at all. And he was assigned to the Gulf Coast League, a place that Hollywood celebrities aren't too likely to spend any amount of time.

Still, the fact that's he's a pioneer of sorts is noteworthy and one that Bert takes justifiable pride in even though he's hardly Jackie Robinson in that respect.

Bert is a native of Normandy, that section of his homeland that is rich in history- one that most Americans know as the area invaded by the Allies on D-Day and the site of bitter fighting in the weeks that followed.

Rouen, the city in which Bert was born, was one of the coveted objectives in those days and Bert is well-aware of the battles that were fought in and around there. He has, among other things, visited the impressive cemetery where so many crosses and stars of David can't be viewed even today without a surge of emotion.

He became a baseball player by accident for it hardly ranks with soccer (which they call "football" over there as they do in most of the world except the U.S. and Canada). The diamond sport is not as unknown as you may think, though, for there is a television network that regularly shows games from here; it's often watched and will be more so now that the playoffs and World Series are about to take place.

Joris himself estimates there about 20,000 Frenchmen who play the game so it's hardly soccer or basketball, for that matter, when it comes to the public mind. More like the ESPN televising the "X" Games. Bert had an older brother who played it but he himself was into soccer and tennis as befits a young athlete from his part of the world. And, if it weren't for a misunderstanding, he might never have taken it up himself.

His soccer team had a road game scheduled but didn't get the departure time correct so when he arrived at the designated site, the team bus had left, the coach declining to wait for him. With nothing to do, he drifted over to where his brother and others were playing baseball and was persuaded to join in.

He showed a knack for the game and,when his soccer coach decided to discipline him, he devoted his time to the diamond- and rose quickly enough to stay with it.

Although one sport is that of footwork and the other one that requires hand-eye coordination to be successful. Bert has a talent that can apply to almost every sport there is. He's fast- very fast- and he used to that speed to make it all the way to the French national team for they have one. And, before too long, it brought him to this country.

Frank Phillips Junior College in Borger, Tex., is one that has long specialized in recruiting international students to come here to school. And one of its baseball coaches had a connection with the French team and had asked them to recommend any young player they felt had the talent to succeed here. The 19-year-old Bert was the athlete they said had a chance.

Succeed he did at Frank Phillips by applying that swiftness. He hit .395 this spring and stole 42 bases in 52 tries, one of the best totals in junior college ball. It also caught the eye of Dodger scout Paul Fryer and his selection followed.

It would be nice to report that he broke in with dazzling success but it didn't really work out that way. For one thing, he had to exchange his student visa for a work visa and that was caught up in bureaucratic red tape that required him to return to France for some time before it was finally issued.

When he got back, the season was more than half over and his game had grown moss on it. His speed played to advantage in center field but he hit only .214. What's more, his base-running didn't help the team at all. He attempted only two steals, got a poor jump on both and was thrown out both times.

So, it will be spring training when he gets down to the work of learning what he has to do to make it it. Since he's only 5-9, 165, that will be the usual routine for players of his type- to hit down on the ball to make the most what they always refer to in the game as his "wheels."

The French papers quoted a Dodger official as saying that with hard work he could make it to the big leagues. True, if that work produces desired results. Maybe then, he could br truly put into the same sentence as Tony Parker without blushing.

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