So I'm back in Kaunas!! My fourth season playing for Kaunas Lituanica. Man I am getting old.....
I arrived at the field at around 1:30 PM. I was the second to arrive, just after Gedas and Sigitas. Gedas was wearing nice street clothes, and Sigitas was dressed already in his uniform having worn it for the previous game (the younger team played earlier in the day).
I immediately took out a trash bag and began picking up trash, remnants from the previous evening’s festivities. Gintaras Stadium, our stadium, has no fully-enclosed fence around it. We do not own the field. Thus the stands are a popular hangout place for teenagers looking for a place to party cheaply. Even during our game today, for example, there were three separate groups of teenagers hanging out in the bleachers drinking beer or cider, smoking cigarettes, talking/flirting, sending messages and making calls on their cellphone. Its funny to me how here in Lithuania (maybe this is the case in the US as well and I am just out of touch) that it is socially acceptable for someone to be sending Text messages while they are hanging out with their friends or sitting with
others. And I mean sending lots of messages—like hanging out with friends but constantly concentrating on their phone sending messages. Here is my question: if they are so occupied with their sms-ing then why are they not hanging out with the friend who they are writing to on their phone?
After some time (about an hour before the game), we had amassed a majority of our players. I was raking home plate and the mound at this point and others were setting up the field.
There have been many changes to the stadium since last season, though to the eyes of a first-timer they would go unnoticed. Shaquillas has built a portable scoreboard that we bring out for every match. It is hing on a railing by the old bleachers, it is made of wood with hand-painted labels signifying ‘home’ and ‘guest’ and ‘inning’ and ply-wood squares with numbers on them to keep the score. Mid-way through the game we moved the scoreboard from the bleachers to the other side of the stadium (taking with us the L-screen to hang it on) so that the fans could follow the score of the game.
The fans!! We had
about 25 fans at this game, which is for us a record. Granted that 12 of the 25 were teenagers just hanging out at the stadium…..but I did notice them, at times, intently focused on the action of the game.
New foul poles have also been made. They are made of metal on the bottom, a sort of tri-pod metal contraption with a wooden upper half and spray-painted grey. We have made three, one for each foul pole and one for center field (to demarcate between the normal-distanced left field, where hitting past the grass is a home run, and right field, where hitting past the concrete is only a ground-rule double).
Algimantas, the father of two of the younger players in Kaunas, has brought from his work four long steel poles that are brought out and rung on the already-in-place poles that circle the old Soviet track behind home plate. On these four poles we hang a net (the same net that for practices is hung in the outfield to create the batting cage). This net serves to block foul balls, but is actually not in play because it is too far behind home plate. Even still,
Vytautas the Great
Vytas is about six foot five but in his batting stance he is about five foot six. But if he gets a hold of one it goes.
it serves the purpose of saving time we usually spend looking for balls in the bushes.
We also have a newly-bought rake this season. This is so great, given the fact that we did not have one last hear. It means that we can actually rake the mound and home plate before and after the games!! So great. I can’t even tell you how satisfying it was to fix up the mound on saturday.
Sometimes it is like pulling teeth getting the guys here to take initiative to prepare the field for play. Truly. And I am even past the point of making an issue about guys arriving late to the stadium. Really, it is crazy that we are not all there until 45 minutes before the game. Crazy.
I was penciled in to pitch this first game of our weekend series, but when Draugas arrived at the field he told the coach that he would not be at our away game the following day.
Draugas pitched an absolute gem. We won the game 10-3. Draugas, for those of you who don’t remember from my past entries about him, is the oldest player on the
our starting pitcher.
team and in fact was playing at the beginning of the history of baseball in Lithuania. He rarely comes to practice, and when he pitches he does not throw very hard but usually gets the job done. Today was no different; he pitched 9 innings striking out 6 and giving up 3 runs, only 2 earned. He did a great job mixing his pitches, changing spots, and changing his rhythm. We call his fast ball 'The Cobra' because it always seems to sneak by the hitters on its way into the mit. Like at the last second guys somehow miss the ball. He had great command on the mound. And the other team, though they do have some great hitters, were off-balance the whole game.
One turning point in the game was when there were two outs and a man on second and third and I came to the plate. They decided to intentionally walk me since first base was open and they thought they would rather take their chances with the next hitter coming up to bat. And as it happens often after an intentional walk, the pitcher lost his focus and competitive edge. He threw two wild
our 15 year old shortstop.
pitches to the next batter, walking in two runs, the two runs he was trying to keep from scoring by sending me to first base.
Shaquillas had a nice hit as did Vytas later in the game. Most of our runs were scored by errors or walks, which always makes a win bittersweet.
One bright spot in this game was Arunas, our shortstop. Arunas is 15 years old, he is probably one of the brightest players in Kaunas right now. He played a heck of a defensive game for us, and although he made two errors, one of them was on an amazing diving catch that he subsequently made a bad throw to first on. But can you imagine—a 15 year old coming into a game with all men and playing shortstop. Really remarkable.
Things of note: There were four fans at the game, three girls and a guy, who are Sigitas’ students; they are foreign exchange students studying at the Sports Academy in Kaunas. They came to see baseball for the first time. Also there was Algi with his two sons. There was Mindaugas, the father of Vytas who came, sat in a foldout canvas chair
catcher, team captain
right next to the team bench, put on his aviator shades and lit up a cigarette. He stayed around only for a couple of innings.
Game II in Utena
We met, as we always do, outside of a bowling alley/internet café on Savonoriu Avenue, the main boulevard that runs the length the city of Kaunas from the river all the way to the highway. Once enough of us were there we hopped in the car and headed for Utena.
I was on the hill for this game, and from the first inning (the third pitch of the first inning) I felt a twinge in my shoulder, which is never a good sign. I finished out the game, though, throwing mostly off-speed pitches. My arm really had no gas in it—and I think it has something to do with throwing 11 innings in two weeks after having not prepared or trained at all for the season. I guess contemporary dance is not the best training for baseball. 😊 We hit the ball well the whole game, with Mantas, Shaquillas and myself all collecting three hits on the day. Even Macola, who on the previous day went 0-4 with
also our head carpenter.
four strikeouts, had a triple to the right-center gap. I think everyone on the team had atleast one hit. We won the game 17-6 by slaughter rule in the 8th inning.
On the way back from the game we stopped at Arena Pizza to get a bite to eat. My arm was really sore so I asked the bartender if I could have a bag of ice. He looked at me blankly. He looked at me with a look of confusion, as if I had asked for a screw-driver or something out of the ordinary. He said ‘you mean ice chunks?’ I said yes. He then said that they don’t have any. Next Sigitas went downstairs to the grocery store on the first floor. We looked throughout the whole place and they did not have ice anywhere. I went to the frozen food section and selected a nice bag of frozen mixed veggies and headed to the checkout. This would have to do. As we were paying for the mixed veggies, we again asked the cashier if they carried ice in the store, receiving the same blank and confused look. She shook her head no without changing her expression.
So there I was in the pizzeria, sipping my beer with a cold pack of mixed veggies on my left shoulder.
During the meal we began talking about the weekend’s game. We all agreed that the player of the weekend was Draugas, who came up big for us the previous day throwing a complete game and getting the win. It came up that many guys were in need of new baseball gloves, that theirs were falling apart. Sigitas asked me if I could find out from someone in the US what is a good brand of glove—he said the problem for the players is not paying for the glove but knowing which one is of good quality. He then began counting how many guys needed a new glove. Eight guys raised their hands.
I also learned from Sigitas that a package of baseballs being sent from a friend in the US, a package that contained 80 or so balls, had somehow been lost in the mail. He had been to the post office in Kaunas three times and customs once, and no one knew where the package of balls had gone (or they would not tell him
because he is not the sender of the package). This is one of the many stumbling blocks that is the process and progression of baseball in Kaunas (and in Lithuania). Two steps forward, one step back………
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