November 16th, 2021
By Carter Cromwell
When Billy Germaine was released from his independent league team in the summer of 2017, it seemed to represent a dead end for his baseball career. Instead, it was just a detour.
And no small one, as it turned out. The new path took him back to Canada and then to Germany – all the while playing baseball.
Undrafted by Major League clubs following his final college season in 2016, Germaine eventually signed with the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League, a professional league in the United States that has no affiliation with Major League Baseball. It seemed then as if his career was a “go” . . . until it wasn’t.
Photo: Billy was released by the Southern Illinois Miners despite being one of their best hitters. (Photo credit: The Southern Illinoisan)
Southern Illinois had won division championships the previous three years but was suffering the only losing season in its eventual 15-season history. After getting looks at catcher, first base and left field, Germaine was cut loose after just 20 games, despite posting a .298 batting average and .379 on-base percentage.
“Yes, I was mostly surprised because I was one of the best hitters on the team,” he said, “but I sort of saw it coming, too. I’d transitioned from playing a couple of times a week to just pinch-hitting to just catching bullpen sessions. I was told that I was hitting but that there wasn’t a position for me. I don’t think [the manager] liked what he saw in me defensively, and he had a couple of returning guys that he liked.”
Germaine served as a bullpen catcher for another month, hoping to hook on with another club, but was unsuccessful and returned home to Aldergrove, just east of Vancouver in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
“I went home and didn’t even touch a ball for several months,” he said. “I’d never been released before, so it was really tough.”
Indeed, his history to that point had been one of success. As a high-schooler, he played on a travel team in a league that had several players drafted by MLB teams, including current St. Louis Cardinals’ standout Tyler O’Neill. Germaine batted .321 and .384 his last two seasons and made all-league both years. Next came two seasons of junior-college play at Hill College in Texas, during which he averaged .302 with an .813 OPS, followed by two years at Southern Arkansas University. There, he was twice all-conference and once all-region while posting a slash line of .321/.428/.647.
Photo: Billy hit 30 home runs in his two seasons with the Southern Arkansas University Muleriders.
So getting released was, as he put it, “a gut punch”. After moving back to Canada and trying to regain his equilibrium, he applied to graduate school – his undergraduate degree is in physical therapy – started a part-time job, and took a couple of classes to boost his grade-point average. But baseball, with his older brother Joe the driver, eventually beckoned.
Now back in Canada and owner of a high-performance athletic training company, Joe was then in the middle of a baseball sojourn that had taken him to Australia and then to Germany, the latter opportunity through Baseball Jobs Overseas. At the time, he was playing and coaching with Lauf, a second-division German team. Slowly but surely, he got Billy interested in joining him.
“My brother got back from Germany in late September of that year,” Billy said. “At that point, I thought I’d probably go back to school, but he started chipping away at me, saying how much fun it was playing there and that we could travel around, too. I was resistant, though.”
“It took several months to get him interested,” Joe said. “I’d asked Bill the year before and the year before that about playing in Europe, but he had wanted to try pro ball in the U.S. He’d always had a quiet but unshakeable confidence, but he was pretty down this time after getting released, so it took a while for him to consider baseball again.
“At the time, our club had given me full control over our youth teams and top men’s team. We just needed one more key piece to be good enough to move up a level, and Bill is the good-hitting catcher that everyone wants. I told him that he’d be able to play all the time there and have a good time without a lot of pressure.”
Eventually, the persistence paid off, and Billy joined his brother in Germany in February 2018.
Photo: Billy decides to play overseas in Germany with his brother Joe, following his professional baseball stint in the Frontier League
The Lauf club had made much progress during Joe’s time there as shortstop and manager, rising from the fourth league to the second in three years and winning the title of second league in 2017. Billy immediately fit in – or, more accurately, really stood out.
In 28 games, he posted video-game numbers – a .567 batting average, a .680 on-base percentage, a 1.056 slugging mark and 40 RBIs. Twenty-five of his 51 hits went for extra bases, including eight home runs, and he had 30 bases on balls and just two strikeouts in 120 plate appearances. In addition, he stole 32 bases and was caught stealing just three times, a 91-percent success rate.
Lauf, though, only had Germaine’s services for that one season. His brother Joe had wanted the club to move up to the first league, but the team voted to remain where it was.
“The team voted against it while we were on vacation,” Billy said. “We got a text about it while in the desert in Jordan.”
Joe added, “I tried to convince them to move up, but they didn’t think they had what it took. We had a lot of talent, but people have to believe in themselves.”
Photo: Billy and his brother Joe take a trip to the deserts of Jordan.
So, from there, the brothers moved to Ulm, a club in the German first league, Joe as player/manager and Billy as the catcher. Billy again starred, with a .347/.449/.643 slash line. He hit seven home runs, struck out just nine times in 116 plate appearances and was 15-17 in stolen-base attempts. He finished #12 in the ranking of the year’s Top 25 Batters among Baseball Jobs Overseas members.
Unfortunately, that also was a one-year stint – “not a great experience,” as Billy put it.
“A couple of months after we got there, the club decided that having a player/coach wasn’t a good idea, so they brought in another manager – but only for game days,” he explained. “My brother would work all week to prepare the team, and then the other guy would come in for the games. It didn’t work because he didn’t know what was going on, and they let him go after a couple of months.”
The team finished in seventh place with a 5-23 record, though it did win 10 games in the “playdowns”, in which the division’s bottom four teams play and the loser is relegated to the second league. Billy again starred, batting .533 in 12 games with an other-worldly OPS of 1.838, but it was again time to move on – Joe back to British Columbia and Billy eventually to the Stuttgart Reds.
Germaine batted .488 with a 1.743 OPS in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and was voted Best Batter in the South Division. His performance helped boost the Reds to third place, tying their best-ever finish and a significant improvement over the previous year’s sixth-place standing. He continued his success in 2021 with a .483 average and 1.606 OPS along with 16 home runs and 45 RBIs in 28 regular-season games, as Stuttgart again finished in third place.
Photo: At the time of this posting, Billy has hit 24 home runs in 140 at-bats since joining the Stuttgart Reds. (Photo credit: Iris Drobny)
After the club lost in the playoff quarterfinals, he returned to Canada, albeit temporarily.
“I hadn’t planned to come back, but I had messages from the Welland team in the IBL (Inter-County Baseball League) and a team in Quebec – Drummondville – that needed a power hitter, so I went there for the last month of their season and the playoffs.” Germaine put up numbers at Drummondville similar those in Germany – a .444 batting mark with eight home runs and 24 RBI through the playoffs.
None of this has caught brother Joe off guard.
“He puts the ball in play a lot and had good power to all fields – and easy power, too. The ball would just jump off his bat. He’d hit low line drives that would go all the way to the fence. He got a lot of walks, too, and he’d always had good speed for a big guy [6-3, 220 pounds], having been timed at 6.9 seconds in the 60-yard dash.”
Nor has Germaine’s success surprised Steve Browning, Southern Arkansas’ head coach/athletics director during Germaine’s time there and still the school’s athletics director.
“I remember his junior-college coach telling me he thought Billy had been overlooked,” Browning said. “We just took what Billy had and built on that. One thing that helped was our off-season weight program. We don’t play as many games in the fall as the junior colleges often do, so Billy had more time to train, and he embraced it. He had the frame, but then put on 10-15 pounds in his first year here, and his body just transformed.”
That translated to more power. Germaine hit nine home runs and drove in 61 runs in 89 games over two junior-college seasons. In his first year at Southern Arkansas, he homered 12 times in 58 games and drove in 66 runs. As a senior, he had 18 home runs and 58 RBIs in 50 games.
Photo: Billy hit 8 home runs in 54 at-bats after joining Drummondville late in the 2021 season following his season in Germany.
“We saw that the bat speed was there, as well as the power potential,” Browning said. “Combine that with his athletic ability – good speed for a big guy and the ability to also play left field, right field or first base – and you’ve got a really good one.
“Also, Billy was a grinder, a workhorse. He always had a dirty uniform when he left a practice or a game. He had a passion for the game; he wasn’t just here because it was paying for college. He had a 3.8 GPA in the classroom, too.
“Here, we gave him the platform to be successful, and he’s taken that and run with it.”
He’s now back in Germany and planning to play for the Tubingen Hawks in 2022. He gets along well with the Tubingen manager, and the commute there is much easier – a 10-minute bicycle ride rather than a three-hour round trip by car.
The Hawks advanced to the first league beginning in 2020 and both years have finished seventh in the eight-team South Division.
“They need to be better offensively, so I’m hoping I can help with that,” said Germaine, who plans to also serve as the hitting coach.
He has other plans, as well – some more definite, others less so.
For one, he recently proposed to a German woman – a quality assurance engineer for a biomedical device company and also a softball player – whom he met in Ulm. They’re planning to marry some time following the 2022 season.
Photo: Billy recently proposed to a German woman and plans to be married following the 2022 season.
As for a career not involving baseball, that’s less clear. He could try and go to graduate school in physical therapy, though that would entail finding a university that offers classes in English since he’s still in the learning process with German. At the moment, he’s taking some online college classes in computer science.
“It would be for a degree in applied sciences,” he said. “It’s something I might do if I don’t go the physical therapy route. I have a residency permit in Germany, so I could go to any school in the European Union.”
At the moment, though, baseball is still a significant part of his life, if only a part.
“I came over here to play ball with my brother, and one year has turned into three,” the 27-year-old said. “I figure I’ll play for at least the next couple of years, but it’s hard to plan outside of that.”
All in all, Germaine’s life has changed a lot along the path that has wound from British Columbia to Hillsboro, Texas; Magnolia, Arkansas; Marion, Illinois; and multiple locations in Germany.
“I never pictured the way things have turned out,” he acknowledged. “Absolutely not. I’d always thought that I’d try pro ball in the U.S., and, if that didn’t work, would just go to graduate school and move on with the rest of my life.
“But baseball in the U.S. didn’t end on a happy note, so I came over here, met my fiancé and have been having a great time playing ball. This is the most fun I’ve had playing since I was 14 or 15. When I was in the Frontier League, I found it to be more cutthroat. A lot of guys were into it more for themselves than the team. Here, baseball is still new enough that people really want to learn. No one here really plans on making this a career. This is more like a men’s league, and more fun to be around in some ways.”
So a return to pro ball doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
“I haven’t thought about that since I’ve been in Germany,” Germaine said. “I would consider it, but I’m very happy with everything here, so it would have to be a really compelling opportunity to get me back there.
“It’s turned out that coming overseas was the best decision of my life.”
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