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French Connection: In Olympic Year, Kimane Rogron Embodies Softball’s Global Potential 

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Five years in Texas rubs off on a person, even someone who grew up nearer the other Paris. As Texas A&M Corpus-Christi’s Kimane Rogron described differences in youth sports in the United States and her native France, she inadvertently slipped into fluent, albeit accented, Texan. 

“We don’t play sports in school like y’all do,” Rogron said. 

Y’all? Oh là là. 

The quintessential Southern pronoun and a French accent don’t seem to go together. They’re as much an odd couple as softball and, well, France. In a nation of nearly 70 million people, the French Baseball Softball Federation estimates there are around 14,000 registered baseball and softball players. 

The sport has gained at least a toehold in some European countries, Czechia, Italy and the Netherlands most notably. But France is not on that list, which explains why neither softball nor baseball will appear in the Olympics in Paris. Able to shape a portion of the program to local tastes, Paris organizers passed for the same reasons their Tokyo 2020 and Los Angeles 2028 counterparts included both sports.

But even if softball isn’t anyone’s ticket to Paris, the sport took Rogron from her hometown not so far from the Bay of Biscay to university on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The same person who once marked out base paths on a soccer field in her small hometown followed softball everywhere from Oklahoma’s Marita Hynes Field to the Tokyo Dome. As she nears the end of her Division I journey, trying to help the Islanders reach their first NCAA regional, she reminds us that for all its supposed regional limitations, softball can be a universal language. 

“I like how hard it is,” Rogron said. “You always have to practice. You always have stuff to work on. You’re never perfect at softball. I’m in my fifth year in college now, and I still have stuff I have to work on every day. So I guess it’s the challenge and how it makes me feel—how I feel when I fail and then how much better I feel when I see my work pay off. It’s just really different from any other sports because you can’t just be good at one thing.

“It was that idea of ‘OK, this looks challenging as a sport, let’s see if I can do it.’”  

Joueuse de baseball 

In at least one respect, Rogron’s route to Division I softball sounds similar to many of her American peers—she got there through baseball. It was baseball that a gym teacher introduced to her class in Montendre, a town of just a few thousand people in southwestern France, maybe 50 miles from Bordeaux. Around 12 years old, it would be several years until she knew softball even existed. 

Rogron playing baseball in France (courtesy Kimane Rogron).

Rogron played everything growing up. She played sports like soccer and handball that are staples of French sporting culture. She swam. She even boxed a little. But despite having to practice and play baseball in a gym or on a soccer field, she was enchanted by the sport for all the reasons she mentioned. She didn’t have anyone to emulate and couldn’t watch Major League Baseball games, but she loved playing. Hoping to go beyond the limits of a school gym class, she found a club baseball team about an hour from her hometown. 

But when she was just 15 years old, again echoing of similar stories involving American teenagers, officials told her there was no elite-level future for her in baseball. She needed to switch to softball if she wanted to continue her athletic career at one of the country’s high-performance youth academies, in this case Le Pôle France Jeune Softball in Saint-Raphaël. It meant leaving home on her own and moving more than 500 miles away to the Cote d’Azur on country’s Southern coast, near Nice. But if moving to an academy that was effectively on a Mediterranean beach had its upsides, Rogron wasn’t initially sure there were any positives to her new sport. 

“It was actually really hard because playing defense is not the same at all,” Rogron said. “In baseball, you have time. You don’t have time when someone hits to you in softball. That was hard to adjust to, learning how to do footwork and be fast to throw the ball. It took me a while to understand. Even the throwing was difficult, because playing baseball, I had a really long throw. And I had to shorten up everything in softball.” 

She figured it out. By 2017, only a year after entering the academy, she participated with the senior national team in the 2017 European Championship. She repeated the accomplishment two years later, starting and emerging as one of the team’s leading hitters as France did well enough to reach the final round and advance to a qualifying event for the 2020 Olympics. 

Rogron is in her third season with Texas A&M Corpus Christi (photo courtesy Kimane Rogron).

Baguettes to barbecue 

There wasn’t a trip to the Tokyo Olympics in the cards, but along the way on her softball journey, Rogron had made a trip to Texas with her coach and a couple of teammates. Through contacts, they had try outs with several junior colleges. Trinity Valley Community College, southeast of Dallas, was the last stop. Rogron was terrified no one would be interested, but when TVCC offered her a scholarship, she seized the opportunity to once again let the sport guide her next steps. 

In one of her first games in the United States, a fall ball contest, she found herself playing Oklahoma at Marita Hynes Field. It was a far cry from ad hoc diamonds on soccer fields. 

“I’ve never seen a stadium for softball before,” Rogron recalled. “Playing in a stadium was so fun. I really didn’t care how much we lost by. I was just like “I’m playing on this cool of a field? Let’s go!’”

The move certainly wasn’t without its challenges. Rogron’s first season coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She didn’t return home to France for a year, staying on campus with other international students when everyone else went home that spring and summer. And while the small-town campus reminded her of home in some ways, Texas is its own world. These days, at Corpus Christi in Division I, she’s able to do a lot of her own grocery shopping and cooking in the apartment she shares. At the JUCO level, there was a lot of fast food and Texas-sized portions. 

“I miss the bread and the cheese,” Rogron admitted. “I know it’s so cliche, but French people, we love our bread and our cheese.”

Her goal all along was to earn the opportunity to move to a Division I program and test herself at the highest level of youth competition in the world. When head coach Kathleen Rodriguez left TVCC to take the same job at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, the opportunity arrived. Rogron helped lead TVCC to the junior college national tournament in 2021, hitting .363 (and earned academic honors in her second language). Rodriguez knew she had Division I talent. But the timing of the move wasn’t ideal, the coaching change not happening until nearly Halloween, leaving Rogron to enroll and try to find her footing on a new team as the spring semester began. 

Still, when the Islanders opened the 2022 season at Texas A&M, there Rogron was starting at third base and shortstop in an opening day doubleheader. 

“I guess at the end, all my hard work has finally paid off,” Rogron said of the sensation of facing a team like the Aggies at Davis Diamond. “I’m really playing where I always wanted to play. It’s kind of like a dream. It’s crazy. I’ve been watching all these girls on Instagram and all these big teams. The fact that I actually was there playing, I was kind of star struck.”

Rogron saved 2.38 runs for the Islanders in 2023, top 50 among 3B (photo Texas A&M Corpus Christi).

Blazing a trail 

Primarily a third baseman for the French national team and in her time with the Islanders, she’s started nearly 120 Division I games and counting. And all those frustrations she felt in trying to adapt to playing defense on the softball diamond? Synergy credits her with 1.25 runs saved this season, comfortably in the top 100 at third base and alongside the likes of Missouri’s Kara Daly and Texas State’s Sara Vanderford. She ranked just outside the top 50 a season ago. 

With a pitcher like Primrose Aholelei in the circle, Rogron and the Islanders will always have a shot at a conference tournament run that lands the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid. But the third baseman won’t be done with softball when her time at Corpus Christi comes to an end this spring. France didn’t qualify for this summer’s final stage of the WBSC World Cup, but the European Championships await in the Netherlands in September. She’s also listed on France’s roster for the U-22 national team, which will compete in the U22 European Championships in Poland. 

Rogron has already played in four European Championships for France (photo courtesy Kimane Rogron).

Rogron isn’t the first French player to follow softball to Division I—Louisiana fans well remember Melissa Mayeux, who was also the first woman on MLB’s international registration list (France also now fields a successful women’s baseball national team). But for softball to grow at home, Rogron hopes she won’t be the last to let the sport lead somewhere. It doesn’t have to be the open expanse of north Texas or the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t have to be a five-year odyssey, with nary a boulangerie in sight. But she believes competing against the best is the only way for French players to get better. 

“I think it’s important that the girls try to go somewhere else, other countries” Rogron said. “In Europe, we actually have really good teams—the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Italy, they’re the top three. They’re really good. So I think it would be good for our girls to experience another level of softball. Because if we stay in France and play within each other, the sport’s never going to evolve. They just need to go and see how they play in other countries and take everything that they can from the experience. We definitely have the potential to be good.”

These days, Rogron is as much a softball fan as player. When she’s not on the field or in the batting cage, she’s probably watching games from across the college landscape. Baseball or softball, she never had that luxury growing up. She just knew how the game made her feel. 

And she would go to the ends of the earth, if necessary, to keep playing. 

If people back home don’t understand the flex rule or a 6-4-3 double play, maybe she can get them to understand that. 

“Nobody in France knows about softball,” Rogron lamented with a resigned laugh. “Even when I go home, even my parents, they’re like ‘So how is baseball?’ People do not know anything about softball. They know baseball because, with the movies and all that, they kind of know what it is. But not softball.”