SEATTLE – It was 6:13 p.m., 31 minutes before JP France’s childhood dream became a reality. His wife, Jessica, has been fiddling with her nerves and 3-month-old baby Liam. France’s best friend Ryan Silva had just left with the baby to receive a certificate commemorating their first Ligue 1 match. “He should say the first time to Dad,” Silva said while showing the piece of paper to Jessica.
“This was his (JP’s) first dream in life,” said Jessica, referring to Liam. “Parallel to that dream was to become a major league baseball player.”
Jessica and JP stand for the term odd couple: a reality TV star and tie-speaking Southerner who would rather fish or play baseball than anything else in the world. Jessica has appeared in the MTV blockbuster movies ‘The Real World’ and ‘The Challenge’. She starred under her maiden name, McCain, and garnered a cult following.
Fame faded and Jessica’s mother wondered if she would marry or have children. To calm her down, Jessica downloads Bumble and swipes right on a minor league pitcher who plays for the Astros’ High-A affiliate in Fayetteville, NC
“I completely turned my life around for him,” Jessica said. “I was working in Aspen as a chef, and I had a company car and a mountainside apartment and I was living my best life. I met him and he was like, ‘I’m broke. I play baseball and go all the time, but I love you. And I said, “Wow, I’m down, I love you, too.”
The trip Jessica never took came to a head on Saturday. From Section 137, Row 21 and Seat 6 at T-Mobile Park, it testified to its impressive finish. France hit five innings in five scoreless innings against the Seattle Mariners during his major league debut, much to the delight of a boisterous 12-man cheerleading squad led by Jessica.
“I’ve been on reality TV and taken trips all over the world,” Jessica said. “I was living that kind of boogie lifestyle and I think he felt he had to live up to that. None of it, not one second of it, was ever deserving of your love. I’d eat peanut butter and jelly with him in a roadside town before I came back.” To live this way because he’s my best friend. Not many people get that.”
Most of France’s Friday Night support came from New Orleans, where he grew up with aspirations shared by many of the boys. He had a mound in his backyard and was constantly flirting with his father, Pat. The windows in the neighbors’ homes were not safe.
Friends became so afraid of picking up electrical objects in France that they avoided the road. One of the victim’s next-door neighbours, France, attended Saturday’s match. So did Luke Fortenberry, the Little League coach for France when he was eight.
France’s mom, Kim, said, “We were talking about this last night.” “Do you realize how hard he worked alone? He didn’t get here by not working hard.”
France has played five seasons of college baseball under six different coaches. Tulane cycled through four trainers during his three-year stay in France. Andy Cannizzaro, a New Orleans classmate who France befriended in middle school, lured him to Mississippi State in 2018 for his final season of eligibility. Cannizzaro coached three games before admitting to an extramarital affair with an athletic department employee and quitting.
The Astros selected France in the 14th round of the 2018 draft. France had no leverage and signed the $1,000, starting five years through the minor leagues. Jessica entered the picture during the second. An awkward conversation on a dating app leads to a first date in an apartment in France.
Jessica said to her future husband, “I’ll watch a Disney movie with you, and then I’ll go home.”
Which one did they watch?
“I can’t even tell you because we’ve seen four more movies,” Jessica said. “I stayed there until four in the morning, talking and watching movies.”
Jessica calls herself a “woo girl,” the kind who screams and squeals with every single hit or swing and miss. Saturday’s sell-out crowd of 40,328 couldn’t sink it. Before the France premiere, she leaned over to Pat and said, “I can’t believe it.” The two once drove 16 hours to West Palm Beach, Florida, for France’s first appearance in major league spring training.
“He’s my best friend and I’m his biggest fan,” Jessica said. “I just love him so much and I’m so happy for him. It’s crazy.”
Pat, who doesn’t usually wander toward the bulls while his son warms up, couldn’t resist Saturday. Scout report when he returns?
“Really good,” said Pat, his eyes red. “Really, really good.”
Much of France’s success depends on deception. His delivery was short, and he disguised baseball well. His arsenal includes five pitches with two types of fastballs. France’s four-seamer has a natural cut, so in 2021 the Astros’ coaches encouraged him to add a real cutter to create more of a trick. It has since become his best home ground. France can throw away the four-seam fastball and pair it with a sweeping slider.
“It’s unorthodox,” said Bill Murphy, the Astros’ assistant pitching coach. “There’s definitely something about his arsenal in terms of (bitching) five pitches, but it’s a different delivery and he’s worked very hard to make some adjustments with the delivery and you don’t really see him on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s what makes him successful. He has a five-pitch combination, a delivery that you don’t really see.” This allows him to throw good stuff in the area and get players out.”
After France added the cutter, he struck out 136 batters in 110 1/3 Triple-A innings pitched in 2022. He fixed his mechanics in 2020, eliminating an obvious leg kick and fixing mechanical issues in his hips and shoulders. Results arrived. Chance did not.
France said, “People would ask me all the time, ‘When is the call-up coming?'” “And I had no idea. The way our depth is at the moment, it’s just going to take a weird thing to happen.”
Injuries to Jose Urquidi and Luis García square off on back-to-back days. Overnight, France went from organizational depth to a well-established major league starter. Barring something unexpected, he’ll be in the Astros’ rotation for a while. France is one of only five healthy starters in the squad’s 40-man roster. The opportunity for him to establish himself as a key player here.
“I was angry, people were called and he’s in the same place. I was angry that day,” Jessica said.
“I don’t understand baseball. I’m just a wife who is passionate about her husband. But he told me ‘God has a plan. God’s timing will be perfect. And he didn’t lie. It’s perfect. We’re here and he’s just perfect.'”
(Top photo of Astros GP France pitcher: Joe Nicholson/USA Today)
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