Kaunas Lituanica: February 2007 Update

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March 20th 2008
Published: March 20th 2008
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Here is an entry I wrote on February 20th. An update on baseball in Kaunas:

I have now been back in Kaunas for over two weeks, going to practices with the Kaunas team about twice per week. My first day back, we arrived slightly early to catch the tail end of the youngsters (10-12 years old) practicing. I was very pleased to see that many, if not all, of the kids who I was working with in the Spring for the first time were still coming to practices.

After the Lithuanian Finals in September, Kaunas Lituanica takes about a month break before recommencing off-season practices. In the winter (during the offseason), the Kaunas baseball team practices four times per week. Tuesdays and Thursdays they have an hour and a half in the indoor sports hall, a smaller version of what we had at Wesleyan University with an indoor track and some space in the center. Baseball shares the time slot with a handball team, high jumpers, and track team. This does not leave us much space, but we make do with what we can. Usually we run a few laps, 5-10 laps, then stretch and throw, then break up into groups and work in a circuit: hitting soft toss, running/sprints, taking grounders (in a small netted space).
During practices ther eis not much specific skill development, not much work on pitching technique. The problem is there is only one coach and he is more of a facilitator than anything else. But for the amount of time they have, for what they have to work with, the Kaunas team does a fairly good job of keeping everybody moving and working on something.

Once per week we practice at a local middle school near the baseball stadium. It is an old gym with an old wooden floor—one wall is thick glass windows, many of which are cracked. The cold wintery air from outside makes for a not-so-warm gym, and once you get sweaty you must try to keep moving or else you will quickly find yourself getting cold again.
Sunday is our fourth practice, for those who have trouble making it during the week.

The face of Kaunas baseball will once again be very different for the 2008 season, I think. Thus far about four or five guys from the adult team show up for practice, and the rest are the younger guys (players from the Junior team and Men's Second Team). The older guys have jobs and families, of course, which keeps them from coming consistently in the summer. Some of them do their own off-season in training in the gym and prefer not to do too much throwing and hitting. Often the older guys that show up are the same: Sakylas, Mantas, Donatas, Gedas, and Donatas. And some others from time to time.

Marijus Dargus, our best pitcher and MVP from last season, is recovering from serious knee surgery and will likely not play until the final month of this season. Shaq is having back problems and cannot yet do much physically, though he is at every practice.

Supposedly Yagi, our shortstop/journalist/photographer from Japan, will be back next summer though no one has yet heard from him.

There is movement on the stadium front (plans to build a new baseball stadium to replace the run-down soccer field that we now play on). For those of you who may not remember, Kaunas had all but completed the process of approving a lease from the City on a piece of land when someone brought forth a contesting claim for the land, saying that their family had rights to the land before decades of Soviet Occupation. Now, the City has reached a settlement with this individual, giving them land in another part of the city in exchange for this land. This possibly will open the door to let the process of officially obtaining this land proceed.

Some changes to baseball in Lithuania this season: for starters, the league passed a vote deciding to return to a 2 game per weekend format. Apparently some of the teams (enough to pass the vote) felt that three games per weekend was simply too much. Baseball here in Lithuania is not professional, and all of the guys on all of the teams have day jobs. I personally agree with this decision. I think that eventually, if Lithuanian baseball wants to become more competitive and professional, it must move to have more games. But for the moment, no one is getting paid to play. People play for fun and it is difficult to expect guys to add one game per week to their already full lives. I think, though, that this will soon change.

Another change for this season will be the mandatory use of wooden bats in the adult division. This was also decided by a vote in the Lithuanian Federation.

What other news……the team still does what they can with little funds. We use rubber balls and throw them at walls in place of long toss (because we do not have the indoor space to do proper long toss). We use tennis balls to do hitting drills inside. We use benches to run around and jump over at practice. At the moment we have about ten or so decent baseballs for each practice, and that number dwindles every day.

Though we have received the good news that, thanks to Jim Pransky and the Tampa Bay Rays organization, several dozen new baseballs are being sent to each Lithuanian team as a gesture of support. It goes without saying that these four dozen baseballs will go quite a long way.


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