Rain, Sunshine, and brutal baseball: week II in the Lithuanian Championship

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May 26th 2008
Published: May 26th 2008
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What to do, what to do........What to do, what to do........What to do, what to do........

the man to the far right is the umpire for the game.....
**First: i want to mention for those of you who may have missed the transition.....and you probably missed it because i made no transition in my writing........between dance and baseball. I arrived here in Kaunas two weeks ago to play three weeks with the team. For the moment we have finished with rehearsals, and do not pick up the work until september when we rehearse and then premier in the US. So for several months you will be hearing mostly about baseball, about me and my ponderings on life, and about South Africa (where Viktorija and I will be in one week!!)...........

Saturday: first game of the weekend series. We left for the game on this rainy and coldy day. Arriving at the stadium in Vilnius, we see that the stadium is completely wet. Underwater, in fact. Apparently when Sigitas called them earlier that day, they had said that they would be out on the field working from 11 am and that the field would be playable by 3pm game time. It was far from it when we arrived (see photos).

After standing around at the stadium for about half an hour, considering all of our options, (which included inversing the field and playing from center field without a pitchers' mound, or driving back to kaunas and playing on a dry field, or waiting it out /working on the field and playing later in the day, we decided on plan C. We would go to a pizzeria while the Vikingas team stayed at the field doing their best to drain it using buckets, shovels, and a toothless rake.

We sat comfortably in the pizzeria drinking our lattes, eating soup and salad and dessert. When we returned to the field one hour later, it was in decent shape and we suited up for the game.

I was the starting pitcher. All week I had been nursing my arm doing yoga, stretches, icing it and applying 'Deep Relief' pain-relieving gel and taking anti-inflammatories. I threw a bit during the week and my arm felt alright. And though it was bitter cold and rainy and warming up seemed to take twice as long, I felt game-ready, and took the mound. Still having no juice in my fastball but a bender that could do the job, I tore through the first 8 innings giving up just 3 runs, 2 earned (I
first base linefirst base linefirst base line

digging trenches and scooping out water.
feel the need to constantly list both earned and unearned runs because the totals are never the same). I even struck out the side one inning. For the first time since I can remember I was making a chase for the cycle--all I needed to complete it was a home run (a cycle is when you hit a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game). In my last at-bat, my final chance at the cycle, I struck out looking on an outside fastball. My first strike out of the season.

Vikingas threw two lefties this game. Kaunas has yet to face a right-handed pitcher since I've been in Lithuania. We have faced five pitchers thus far, all lefties. I hate hitting against lefties.

In the ninth inning I totally ran out of gas. Totally and completely. And I crumbled a bit because of it. I got really nervous on the mound. It was truly a humbling experience, standing there on the mound in the ninth inning with my arm hanging struggling to throw a strike, the ump not giving me anything, and knowing that there was no one warming up in the bullpen (though there never is anybody warming up in the bullpen because there is no bullpen and relief pitchers don’t warm up, but whatever….). it was all me, to win or lose the game. Vikingas put up 5 runs on the board catching up to 9-8 with the tying run at second. And the winning run at the plate. I was so nervous.

I ended up striking out the batter on three pitches, the final one being an outside fastball.

Probably the most embarrassing moment of the game, besides the ninth inning, was when Yankis stole home on me. I was in the windup and before I knew it he had taken home. It was so quick. This has never happened in my life. Crazy, crazy.

Game 2: Kaunas

Unlike yesterday, the weather was sunny, no rain. A strong wind persisted throughout the game. I drove to the stadium with Vytas, our first baseman. When we arrived the field was already fixed up, the dirt around the bases was raked and even, scoreboard was out and set up, the foul poles and benches were out. Apparently Sigitas had arrived a bit early and set it all up—even by 9:20 when Mantas, our catcher arrived to do such, it was already done. This was a nice surprise and a nice way to begin the day. We began our normal warmup routine of one lap followed by a sort of relaxed stretching/coffee klatch circle, where the guys wake up their bodies and their mouths. They must prepare for all of the shouting and bickering that will take place during the game.

20 minutes before the game is to begin, Draugas has not yet arrived. He is penciled in to be our starting pitcher today......he finally arrives, with 20 minutes to spare.

And he holds his own, going five innings and giving up four runs against a much more fortified lineup than he/we faced the previous week in Utena. We are tied 4-4 when he leaves the game after the 5th inning. Aivaras enters and he also pitches well, but we are unable to overcome our five errors and a few too many base on balls, leading to a loss. Vikingas was also a totally different team—they were more awake, more energetic. Their legionnaire was on the mound—a ringer from the Ukraine (also a lefty) who had pitched for them two seasons ago and is now back. It appeared that the Ukrainian pitcher had not thrown in a while—he began the game quite rusty but by the end finished very strong. You could actually see his fastball get faster as the game went on (unlike my fastball of the previous day, which got progressively slower as the game went on…..).

Manning the scoreboard today we had two youth players, Gedrius and Aidas. They had a box they had taken over to sit on, and they took charge of the homemade scoreboard and keeping track of all of the foulballs that came their way. In some stadiums kids receive a free soda for retrieving foul balls, but in Kaunas all they receive is a big ‘thanks’ and ‘hey—there goes another one.’ It gave me a good feeling to have these two boys at the game so excited about baseball, willing to help out/chip in.

I was intentionally walked for the second time of the season today. I am beginning to get used to this, though it is actually kind of frustrating. It usually happens in a key situation when I really want to/ need to get a hit, and instead I am forced to sit there and watch him throw me four balls. One of the balls was not too far off the plate, and I regret not swinging at it just to give it a go. I will give it a try next time…..
Going into the bottom of the ninth inning we were losing 6-4. I was walked as the first batter and after making it around to third base, was eventually knocked in by a ground ball to the right side of the infield. We tied the game when Vytas, our slow yet hard-hitting first baseman, scored on a sharply hit grounder to the shortstop. Thinking we had already lost the game, Aivaras, our starting pitcher, had already taken off his spikes and was in his sandals. He had taken his jersey off and his athletic cup out. Then once we tied it up, he began to get dressed again.

In extra innings they hit the ball, we walked a guy, and made a crucial error at third base that scored two runs and sealed the deal. We were unable to recapitulate in the bottom of the 10th, and lost the game 9-6.

It was one of those losses that, in a bizarre way, was good for our team. It was sort of a wake up call. We made lots of mistakes, and though our hitting almost won us the game despite of our mistakes, it was not enough. We deserved to lose this one. But it was not only making mistakes that was the problem, but how we responded to those mistakes. Often one mistake was followed by another, or one mistake was followed by bickering and yelling amongst players, followed by another mistake……or complaining about the umpire followed by a mistake or visa versa…….it was about the way we carried ourselves throughout the game that disappointed me and I think disappointed many folks on the team including Sigitas, our coach.

We discussed this after the game a bit. We talked about how there was a place for telling somebody what they did wrong, for critiquing other players, and that this place is not on the field in the heat of the moment. This place is either on the bench or, even better, after the game or in practice. But it tears a team apart to have 9 coaches on the field at a time. It simply does not work. It is like If an actor or dancer were to be constantly critiquing his fellow actors or dancers while in the middle of a play or performance. This would never happen and would be catastrophic to the performance and to the collective; and likewise in baseball it does not make any sense and is unproductive.

We decided to continue our discussion near the quick stop over some beers, so we all headed to our cars. I asked Zena and another baseball mom if they would come with us for a beer; they asked where, and I said ‘you know, by the ‘kioskas’ (small shop)’. She looked at me like ‘what?’ and I said ‘you know—there in the parking lot by the small shop. Next to the dumpster.’ “Ok…..no, I guess we’ll just see you at home’ she said with a smile. I guess my further description of where we were going for beers did not entice her any more.

The small parking lot next to the dumpster near the kioskas is where we go after most games and practices to have a beer. I have grown to like it, and it is much nicer than being in a bar or restaurant…..it is really nice to be outside hanging out. And it is a nice chance to decompress a bit and talk about the game.

Our discussion about the team continued. What do we need to do in practice to get better? One thing we agreed on was working on runners stealing—on holding runners on. Vikingas has one really fast player: Yankis. He is one of the fastest players I have ever seen on a baseball field. Yesterday he stole home on me. Never in my life has anyone ever stole home on me. Only him. And what do you do in this situation where a guy is just lighting fast and will steal the base every time, no matter what do you do? Do you just give him the base? I suggested we work on slide-steps in practice with pitchers. I also suggested we work on mixing up looks to first base. At one point Sigitas looked directly at Audrius and said straight to him “here is your problem audrius: you catch the ball with your hands. You are all hands. You need to catch the ball with your balls, really. You need to take some off the chest.” It was so great—he said this straight to him without batting an eye. And the greatest thing was that Audrius took it and listened also without batting an eye. I think this needs to happen more often--the coach being direct with players and those players listening. Not in the moment when they make the mistake--but later, when the moment is right. And players can also give each other criticism, but there needs to be a way to do it that is helpful.

I have one more week here in Kaunas playing baseball before i leave for South Africa. My time in Kaunas seems to always race by. Though I am not busy, really my days end up being very full and I am doing a lot. These past two weeks have been a great opportunity to have some down time. To do things like go to the stadium and mow the grass, do yoga, write on my blog.....read a book........do the laundry and go for walks in the forest........I have also spent a lot of time both gathering baseball equipment for the program in South Africa where I will be working, as well as working on plans for Andrius and Vilius, the two lithuanian boys who will be headed to North Carolina for one month of playing baseball and visiting the U.S. I am super excited for this experience that they will have.

So life rolls on......I am feeling both rejuvenated and energized by this constantly changing scenery, by going from one thing to the next, just rolling with it....... I feel blessed to have such a loving family here in Lithuania to stay with, and i feel so lucky to be able to be playing baseball, something I love to do, as my profession. And I also miss home, my friends, my family, very much. I love learning and practicing other languages, true language immersion, but sometimes I just want to be immersed in my own language.......I need a good dose of English immersion. Of American television. Of the daily show and citcoms. And Sportscenter. Of mowing my OWN lawn back home. It is intense--both loving and being excited by travelling and feeling a bit lost at the same time, a bit like I am wandering, Like I am on some treasure hunt but have lost my map, or there is no map, or I am making the map as I go.........that is how I feel.


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