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Published: September 12th 2007
September 1st in Lithuania is a marked day on everyone’s calendars because it is the first day of school. This year the 1st of September was a Saturday, nonetheless they had school (in the US, of course, we would simply begin school the following Monday if the ‘first day’ happened to fall on a weekend.).
September 1st for athletic coaches, baseball coaches included, marks the beginning of the scouting season. It signals that it is time to head to the elementary and middle schools in search of players for their upcoming seasons.
Last year I spent two days visiting schools with Sigitas looking for young baseball prospects, and this year it was planned that we would do the same.
Tuesday, September 3rd:
Today Sigitas picked me up at 8 am from Viktorija’s flat, on Asygile Gatve, (translation: ‘North Pole Street’). We headed toward Egulaiai neighborhood to meet Algimantas, the father of two twin brothers who play baseball in Kaunas (Little League). Algimantas is one of the more active parents involved in Kaunas baseball; he brings his boys to all of our games, even practices, and is always calling Donatas (his boys’ coach) to ask when will be practices. He has played an active role in the first three little league practices we have held his fall as well. Algimantas is also the President of the PTA parents’ organization at his childrens’ school and, on this particular morning, had arranged for us to come to his school to invite players to practice.
Here’s how it works: we walk into the school, find the director’s office and ask if we can speak to the director. Sometimes we are ushered into the office immediately, other times we must wait for up to 10 or 15 minutes to see her. We then get permission to go to classes and speak with students (or we don’t get permission). Then we find the class list which tells where the 4th and 5th class students (10 and 11 year olds) are. Usually there are about 6 or so classes to visit per school.
Once we have found the classroom, we knock on the door, enter, all of the kids stand up and say ‘labadiena’ (‘good day’) Then they sit, sigitas explains about baseball. We did all of this last year but then I did not understand Lithuanian. It is interesting now because I understand the language. The first and main things sigitas stresses when he is trying to get a kid to play is that it is cheap to play, that gear is free, that travel is free, that in the past kids have played in tournaments in other parts of Europe and the US. There is no explanation of the game of baseball; we are simply inviting the kids to play. There is actually no talk about baseball whatsoever, just the name is mentioned. The most hardly stressed point in the speech is the location of the stadium, which to me this at first seemed to be overkill, but then I realized that the most complicated/difficult part of enrolling a child in baseball is simply getting him to the stadiumthere. There are often no parents available to drive their child to and from practices. Most kids come by bike, by bus, or by foot. In fact I only know of two children in the past week who arrived with their parents by car. What is more, it is difficult for a child to locate the stadium since it is not a well-known location and they surely have never seen a baseball game there.
Once you’ve succeeded in getting the child to come to practice, then comes the even harder part: keeping him interested.
But I digress. Back to the task of speaking to kids in the schools. After Sigitas’ speech, he introduces me, and I say a few words in English, mostly repeating some of what he just said and say. For the most part the kids do not understand what I am saying—of importance is that I am speaking English and that they see that we have an American player. They just look, wide-eyed, whispering to the other students. When I finish we hand out flyers to the kids with their hands raised and give one flyer to the teacher to keep on the blackboard. We say thank-you, visogaro, and head out the door. Often as we head out the door the kids will shout ‘bye’ or ‘goodbye’ or ‘hello’, whatever they know in English. My favorite was one kid who softly said ‘nice to see you’ as I walked past him and out the door. ‘nice to see you too’ I said softly to myself as I closed the door behind us.
In one English class there was one question written on the blackboard: “Why are you Lithuanian??” This question left me puzzled—as a ‘native’ English-speaker, I am not sure what this question is asking. I wonder how 10 and 11-year-old schoolchildren would answer this question.
In two days we have visited six schools. We will have practice today with those who come out to try baseball, and then again next week will visit other schools. The goal is to get enough kids for one team, maybe two, maybe more???
One Week Later:
Since visiting the schools, we have had three practices with the young kids. From visiting those schools, about 15 or so new kids have come to practice. By the third practice, 12 of them have remained.
Today we visited two more schools, visiting the 4th and 5th grade classes in each school. We handed out about 50 flyers to interested kids. Sigitas told me that he suspects about 10 of those fifty will show up to the field to practice. Our goal is to enroll atleast 30 kids in baseball this fall, which would mean that there would be atleast two little league teams in Kaunas, one more than the previous season.
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