The stadium in Utena. it is the only stadium with a backstop, fences, dugouts....a real baseball field.
I continue to learn more and more about baseball here in Lithuania.
Last Sunday at the games in Utena I was playing first base when a ball was hit to the shortstop, who threw a wild throw to first wide to the right. I went to catch the throw and was toppled over by the Utena runner as he ran past first base. I tumbled once and landed on my feet, and impulsively said ‘Aziprasau,’ (sorry). The Utena guy said ‘hey man, sorry ‘bout that, you alright?’ And I said ‘you’re not Lithuanian.’ ‘Nope,’ he said.
So how did I go a full season in Lithuania last year, playing in Utena numerous times never having met this other American playing baseball in Lithuania?
As he stood on first, we began to chat. I learned a little about my new American friend.
His name is Nathan; he is a missionary living in Utena with his wife and kids, where he has been for the past six years. He plays for Utena Vetra and coaches as well; in his words, ‘I preach for a living and baseball is just a hobby.’ He said that I’d never met him cause he never comes to Sunday games and some Saturdays because he is busy preaching.
I swear the guy blended in with the Lithuanians as if he was one of them; and his Lithuanian was fluent enough that I would never have guessed he was not. (though now that I think of it he was the only one on the field with a beard).
The following week Utena came to Kaunas for three games; I learned that Nathan has started a foundation that collects used baseball equipment from local communities in the US (specifically his community) and sends it to Lithuania to be donated to various baseball clubs. What is great about the foundation is that it allows all shipments to pass through Lithuanian customs without being taxed. Often a shipment of such equipment, if checked, will be seized and a commercial goods tax of up to 30 percent of the value will be obligatory in order to obtain the package. When I sent a package with Carolina Friends School uniforms to Kaunas four months ago, I included a typed letter explaining the contents as a donation from my school to the Kaunas club. In this instance there was no customs tax, but sometimes even a letter is not even enough.
Nathan said that his foundation runs baseball clinics at the stadium and teaches baseballs in the schools in Utena. They organize tournaments for elementary schools and offer prizes to the winning teams. His foundation, he said, has shipped hundreds of kilos of gear from the US to Lithuania.
Nathan’s wife had baked banana bread and apple muffins for the game, and after our conversation he offered me some; it was the first American-style pastries I had eaten in quite a while.
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