Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 18

August 16, 2006

Tuesday night was the Utena sendoff, and it involved tournament organizers, umpires, the Utena team and families, and the Irvine team that was being hosted in Utena.

It was a BIG bash.

It was held at the lakefront, weekend getaway of one of the Utena team parents (Eel Man, aka Gintaras).

Wednesday was the farewell celebration put on by Sporto Vilkai at the summer home of Ignas’ parents outside Vilnius. This party was for the tournament organizers, umpires, the two Vilnius teams, the parents, and the Dublin team that they hosted.

It was a BIG bash.

The point is, these people know how to throw a party, how to celebrate an event, how to be hospitable. Each night since Sam Griffith, Bobby Gumbs and I arrived from Poland, we have been catered to. At times, we have had to say something to the extent of “Guys, sorry, but we gotta get some sleep.”

They put us up in a nice hotel in Utena, away from the coaches and kids, so that we could get some rest after our 12-hour days at the field. We had large private rooms, while the Lithuanian umpires stayed in dormitory-style housing. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Quite frankly, it was a little embarrasing.

Each day during the tournament, they had pizza and other hot food delivered for us. Even when we said “No, thank you.”

Wednesday, they moved us to a hotel in Vilnius so that we could be closer to the airport for our flight home at 6 a.m. Thursday (8 p.m. Wedesday in CA).

Over and over again, they wanted to know: What else can we do to make your stay better?

They recognize that as ambassadors for Lithuanian tourism, what they are building here has some potential. Five years ago, Lithuania began making a push to attract tourists, particularly Americans.

And through baseball, they are accomplishing their mission. This particular push started with a couple of American umpires, and now there are two American teams participating, too. And bringing extra parents as fans.

And not one person we talked to could find a negative thing to say about their stay, which of course will promote interest by others to come.

And yet, for The Three Amigos, as we are called here, the clarity of the big picture is muddied somewhat by the Lithuanians’ over-the-top hospitality.

Last year, Sporto Vilkai coach Virmidas Neverauskas and his wife slept on the floor and insisted that the Irvine coach sleep in their bed. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

This year, Virmidas’ team slept in tents about 30 yards away from the buildings that housed the Dublin team. It rained at least two of the nights that we were here, and even though the Lithuanian kids said they had fun sleeping outdoors, you have to wonder if they’re just putting a happy face on the situation.

I asked some other Lithuanian folks associated with the tournament where they were staying, and their vague answers indicated to me that they really didn’t want us to know.

And if you think that the housing shortage in the Utena area is bad now, wait a year or two when they get another field built and go from eight to 16 teams.

Their attitude is: Don’t worry; we’ll figure it out.

BOBBY GOT PULLED over by Lithuanian police Wednesday for doing the equivalent of 84 in a 55 on the open highway between Utena and Vilnius.

The cop told Bobby he was speeding, that he needed to see his license, and to get out of his car and INTO the backseat of the police car.

Fifteen minutes later, Bobby came back. He avoided what would have been a $433 USD ticket by telling the cops that he and his American friends were volunteer umpires who had paid their own way to come to Lithuania to umpire baseball in Utena.

That was all they needed to hear.

Time to come home.

For the final time on this trip…I’M OUT!!!

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Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 17

August 16, 2006

So, what would you have done?

A team starts the game with only nine players.

One gets injured (broken nose) and can’t continue.

For all you umpires out there, the answer is simple: game over; thank you for coming; drive home safely.

For all you non-umpires, you must start a baseball game with nine players AND you must have nine throughout. NO exceptions.

But here’s the extenuating circumstances to this game:

*It was the championship game of the Sporto Vilkai Cup here in Utena, Lithuania.

*The game was competitive, with Irvine leading host Sporti Vilkai from Vilnius, 2-1 in the top of the third inning.

*There were 400 people in attendance.

*This is an event that is in just its second year of existence and that made a huge marketing push for more teams and greater attendance this year.

*The REASON the team had only nine players in the first place is because, to fill out the tournament to eight teams, Virmidas Neverauskas split his 18-man roster into two teams of nine.

OK, so now you have all the facts. Ignas (many of you in NorCal and SoCal remember him from the Lithuanians’ visit in April) breaks his nose on a train wreck at second base. They have eight guys left. What do you do?

A) forfeit – game over as per rulebook.

B) let Sporto Vilkai select a player off its second team, which played earlier in the day and was in attendance.

C) let Irvine pick a player off Sporto Vilkai’s second-team roster.

D) let Irvine give Sporto Vilkai a player off its bench.

E) rule a forfeit, but use B, C or D to continue and finish the game.

Anyway, there are probably a few other options that Sam Griffith and I had as Tournament Directors. But by the time that we walked the 40 yards from the racetrack grandstands to the field, Virmidas and Irvine manager David Lester had agreed upon Option B.

And so it was. Sam and I looked at each other, informed the coaches that what they had agreed upon was OK with us so long as we heard each of them SAY it was OK with them, and waited for the second-team player to change clothes.

Ultimately, Irvine won its second straight Sporto Vilkai Cup, 12-3.

And then everyone hugged and took pictures.

I wonder how jovial the mood would have been if the second-team player, who was with the first team when they toured California in April, would have stroked the game-winning hit.

Anyway, what would YOU have done in our shoes?

WHINEY WINNERS: The Russians came to this tournament for one reason, and one reason alone – to win. And when they weren’t winning, they were whiney and cranky.

Cases in point:

1) During their 10-0 semifinal loss to Irvine, two of their injured reserves were playing catch warming up, and the ball came loose and came flying onto the field, nearly hitting the Irvine first base coach in the head. The Russian coach, frustrated and trailing 6-0 already, screamed at the players, “If you’re not too injured to play catch, you’re not too injured to run, so start running.” And for the next hour-and-a-half, they ran, and ran, and ran around the horse track. About five miles, we figure.

2) Before the third-place game against Utena Tuesday, the Russian coaches saw the 3 Lithuanian umpires getting ready and approached me to complain. “Why do we have a Lithuanian plate umpire again? We don’t understand their strike zone.”

I told them the assignments were done on merit and that Rimvydas would give them a great performance behind the plate, and he did. The other two umps, Arnoldasa and Eduardas, were stellar.

After the game, I met up with the Russian coaches again. Their comment?

“It’s amazing we won 17-2 considering we played nine against 12,” their interpretor said.

I walked away shaking my head.

NOTES: Had post-tournament dinner at Eel Man’s house. That’s Gintaras’ house, for you Californians who got to meet him. Alas, no eel this night – hot dogs and such…The big hit at the snack bar this week was a waffle on a stick, cooked fresh, with chocolate sauce on it and either powdered sugar or sprinkles – 67 cents USD….Final records: Irvine 5-0, Sporto Vilkai 3-2, Russia 3-2, Utena 2-3, Dublin 2-3, Czech Republic 2-3, Belarus 2-3, Vilnius II 1-4…Watching the Vilnius II parents attempt to do the wave – for the first time, apparently – was hilarious…They played Credence Clearwater’s Greatest Hits between innings Tuesday. Took me back to my first high school dance, when Credence headlined right after releasing Suzie Q.

Final Lithuania impressions Wednesday.

I’M OUT!!!


Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 16

August 15, 2006

For many of them, it was the biggest game of their young lives. Maybe not quite as big for the five kids on this team Am who represented Russia at the Little League World Series last year, but when you’re from Moscow and you’re playing an American team and playing an American game, the SIZE of the stage doesn’t matter, nor does the location.

It’s still U.S.-Russia, and the adrenaline rush is out of this world. We’ve grown up in a culture that makes it so, and even our younger generation feels that way, although for the most part, they’re not exactly sure why.

“I cannot explain it,” said 30-year-old Russia coach Sergey Zharov, who had three such U.S.-Russia encounters in his life before Monday. “But it’s a big, big deal to this team, and to us as coaches. Any time you beat an American team, especially at their own game, it gets noticed back home.”

Well, if they noticed back home on this occasion, they’re not happy. Defending champion Irvine, Calif., routed the team from Moscow, 10-0, to reach Tuesday’s championship game of the Sporto Vilkai Cup here in Utena. Irvine will meet host Sporto Vilkai, which routed rival Utena, 11-1, in the other semifinal. In last year’s final game, Irvine beat Sporto Vilkai, 3-2.

For the most part, we’ve become desensitized to the significance of U.S.-Russia matchups nowadays. It’s not Al Michaels calling Olympic hockey from Lake Placid anymore.

Safe to say the outcome of any U.S.-Russia competition these days is an infinitely bigger deal if you’re from Russia than if you’re from the states.

“Big things can still happen for you if you beat an American team,” said Zharov, who added that the reason the Russians came to the tournament this year was because there were two American teams. Russia beat Dublin, Calif., 8-5 earlier in the tournament.

The way the Russian players celebrated that victory that day, it was obviously more than just another win. And I suppose you could say that the way they dejectedly accepted defeat Monday, pretty much the same thing is true.

“Three hours ago, I was so hopeful we would play well,” said Zharov. “We’re very disappointed. We wanted to go 2-0 against the Americans.”

Irvine coach David Lester said his team’s focus was clearly different than Russia’s.

“Make the championship game – that was our goal,” he said. “That, and to come over here and play as many different teams as we could. It just so happens we drew Russia today, but it wasn’t a matchup we were looking at.”

In fact, Irvine had already beaten Russia here, 7-1 in a practice game before the tournament began. As such, Lester didn’t care if they drew the Russians in the tournament or not.

“No offense to the Russians,” said Lester, “but quite frankly, I would rather have played Belarus today, only because we never got a chance to play them this week.”

NOTES: We gave Lithuania’s best umpire, Arnoldas Ramanaskas, the plate for the championship game…Sunday, I mentioned that we had been joined by a fifth Lithuanian umpire, “Big Ed,” and that he was the son of our 20-year-old ump, Ed. So, naturally, I assumed the 20-year-old was a Jr. I was wrong. Father is Edmundas and the 20-year-old is Edgaras. Monday, I met the two younger boys, Edvardas and Edis. Ed, Ed, Ed, and Ed. Couldn’t make this up…The Czech team has two players whose last names are Chalupa and Moron. Couldn’t make this up, either.

I’M OUT!!!


Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 15

August 14, 2006

It’ll be Moscow vs. Irvine, Calif., in one game and Vilnius against Utena in the all-Lithuanian second semifinal of the Sporto Vilkai Cup here in Utena Monday.

The largest crowd in tournament history – OK, so it’s only two years’ worth of history, but what the heck? – watched Utena trim the Czech Republic 5-4 Sunday afternoon, an outcome that set in stone all the pairings for Monday.

If the Czechs had beaten Utena, we would have had to replay the Czech-Vilnius II game from Saturday. That’s the game I wrote so much about yesterday in which the Lithuanian plate umpire struggled so terribly.

Anyway, the Czechs are OK with the fact that the game will not be replayed, since a reversal of the outcome wouldn’t put them in the semis anyway.

The team that is the most happy about the Czech-Utena outcome, to be perfectly honest, is the team of umpires, who get to avoid their third consecutive 7:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. day at the field.

Monday’s other two games, weather-permitting: Dublin vs. Czech Republic, and Belarus-Vilnius II.

A QUICK WALK in front of the bleachers during Sunday night’s 5-4 Dublin victory over Sporto Vilkai (Vilnius I) found the following: vodka, whiskey, beer, cigars and cigarettes. One Lithuanian father saw me making mental notes, held up his bottle and said, “Sure…why not?”

SAM GRIFFITH, Bobby Gumbs and I gave away all our throat protectors in Kutno to teams that didn’t have them. So we came to Utena with the ones on our masks, and that’s it. And then we gave THOSE away, too, to Russia, Belarus and the Czechs.

So, of course, Sam took a wicked shot off the throat Sunday…couldn’t catch his breath, and then couldn’t utter a sound for the final four innings of Russia’s 9-0 rout of Belarus.

He’s fine now, but there’s a reason we enforce the throat guard rule.

BEST SHOT of the day: We picked up another Lithuanian umpire Sunday – the father of our first-year, 20-year-old ump, Edward.

“Big Ed” had the plate for Dublin-Sporto Vilkai Sunday night, and he was an absolute sight to behold – Paul Bunyan in gear, if you will – as he prepared to take the field: red and yellow shin guards over the top of black jeans and chest protector over the top of a t-shirt…he’d just come from Vilnius, about 90 minutes away, where he did a 9-inning senior men’s game earlier in the day – by himself. By end of day, he had plate slacks and an umpire shirt big enough to pull over his muscles/chest protector, thanks to Bobby.

SECOND-BEST shot of the day: Dublin manager Mike Schaaf in the third-base coach’s box, coaching his team while videotaping the action.

NOTES: Two one-sided games in a row for me. I had the plate for Irvine’s 18-0 rout of Vilnius II Sunday. On Saturday, I did the 20-0 Utena adult men’s victory over Belarus…We gave the semifinal plate assignments to Bobby and to Rimvydas, who is one of the best Lithuanian umps we’ve seen this week…Tom Kelly paid us a visit today. He hails from Manhattan Beach, CA, works for the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, and his son, Sean, plays for Vilnius II. He’s been our point of contact for shipping equipment and clothing/jerseys to Lithuania…Speaking of jerseys, Irvine’s kids had to do a double-take when they traveled halfway round the world and saw the Vilnius II team wearing Trabuco Canyon jerseys. The two leagues are 10 miles apart.

I’M OUT!!!


Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 14

August 13, 2006

Back in the day, he was The Man, a legend in the making, and the impetus for younger umpires to follow in his footsteps.

The man’s umpiring resume is as long and illustrious as anyone in the region:

* Lithuania’s first baseball in 1987.

* Umpired in over 20 countries, including every country that used to make up the former Soviet Union.

* Mentored most of Lithuania’s veteran umpires, including Arnoldas Ramanaskas, who did the LL Juniors World Series last year.

We were honored to make his acquaintance and to watch him umpire the bases on Friday’s first day of the Sporto Vilkai Cup here in Utena.

And there was a bit of anticipation as he prepared to work the plate for Saturday’s Czech Republic vs. Vilnius II game.

I didn’t understand a word he said at the pre-game plate meeting, but the Czechs seemed to understand, and certainly the Lithuanians did.

But then the horror show began.

There’s no other way to put it, unless you want to use the word “travesty”.

We’ve all had bad days and blown a call here and there. As co-tourney director/UIC Sam Griffith and I agreed afterward, no umpire working his first-ever game could be more out of his element. And this guy’s 64 years old, with well over a THOUSAND games under his belt.

This is not to rip the man, but to honor a great career that everyone agrees is over except him. And that’s sad.

It unfolded like this.

The Czechs came out swinging in the top of the first and went down on four pitches. The only pitch they did NOT swing at was a piped fastball that was inexplicably called a ball. It was a sign of things to come.

The bottom of the first was the longest, most frustrating, maddening experience I’ve ever been associated with as an umpire.

From second base, I counted 20 first-inning pitches that he called balls that I thought were strikes. I thought the Czech coach was going to burst a blood vessel in his neck. They pulled the starting pitcher when it was 6-0, not so much because he didn’t have it as because he lost his composure and became suicidal. It was 9-0 going to the second and even the other Lithuanian umpires in attendance wanted him removed from the game.

Twice during the inning, I called time and came in to speak to him. I told him that he had to call more strikes. Each time, he nodded his head as though he understood.

During the first-inning pitching change, Sam called him over to the fence and implored him to call a strike every once in awhile. Pretty sure he said it differently than that, but that’s the gist of it.

Ultimately, the Czechs’ 9-0 hole became a 14-12 loss, and the closeness of the final outcome – they left the bases loaded in the final inning – had them even more frustrated than they were when they were slamming caps and gloves to the ground in the first inning. At one point, the Czech coach had a bat in his hand and was headed in his direction, and I wasn’t totally sure what his intentions were.

Anyway, after the game, the Czechs were looking for some grounds to protest, asking for the game to be replayed, and even threatening to drive home and not finish the tournament. They’d been wronged, we all agreed, but we pointed out that they compounded the first-inning umpire inadequacies with four two-out errors that turned a 3-0 or 4-0 game into 9-0, and that the umpiring was equally bad for both teams, but that in all fairness to their request about replaying the game, we’d check with the Vilnius II coach, Virmidas Neverauskas, and see what he was willing to do.

This is, after all, Virmidas’ tournament. We are just running it for him. He wants this tournament to grow, so we told the Czech coach that we thought Virmidas might be willing to comply with the Czechs’ request as soon as we hooked up with him.

In fact, Virmidas did agree to replay the game Monday morning, so that is what we’ll do.

In the meantime, I had the unenviable task of telling the umpire that we were taking him off his scheduled plate assignment for Sunday. Moreover, four other teams that saw the game in question filed “protests” Saturday saying they wouldn’t play if this umpire was working their game. The die was cast. We had to remove the umpire from the tournament.

He said he didn’t understand. He still thinks he did a good job. He still thinks he is a competent plate umpire.

I felt like a schmuck telling him he was wrong. And I wish I’d see him in his heyday.

ONE MORE DAY of pool play remains before the semis on Monday.

In Pool A, host Vilnius I is 2-0, Russia and Belarus are 1-1, and Dublin is 0-2. Dublin fell to Belarus 10-7 on Saturday.

In Pool B, Irvine, California is 2-0, Utena is 1-1 and both Vilnius II and the Czechs are 0-1.

GOT AN UNUSUAL opportunity Saturday. Scheduled on the field where this tournament is being contested was a European Interleague B Group adult game between Utena and Skidel, Belarus.

Local umpires deferred to the visitors, and I ended up doing the plate in what quickly developed into a 20-0, 6-inning Vilnius victory. So one-sided are these games on a regular basis that they have a 20-run rule after five innings.

Fun nonetheless, and for laughs, you couldn’t beat the moment when the dusgusted Belarus first baseman refused to chase an overthrow – hands on hips, head cocked, cussing in Russian – while 3 runs scored.

I’M OUT!!!


Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 13

August 12, 2006

It was a moment that made me pause and reflect. “How cool is this?” I thought to myself.

Dutch umpire Bobby Gumbs and I were standing alongside the Utena Racetrack. In the racetrack infield is the only 90-foot baseball field for 300 miles in any direction.

A group of 13-year-olds from Dublin, California was playing Moscow, Russia. Warming up to play the next game were teams from Brest, Belarus and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Four teams from four countries and an umpire from yet another. In the Middle of Nowhere, Eastern Europe.

The world gets smaller.

“How cool is this?”

And all because I got the opportunity to know Sarunas Marciulionis.

I was a sportswriter for the Oakland Tribune when Marciulionis, who is from Vilnius, played for the Golden State Warriors. We got to know each other quite well in his years in Oakland.

Fast forward to 2002 when I first visited Kutno, Poland and crossed paths with Lithuanian coach Virmidas Neverauskas. I introduced myself as someone who knew Marciulionis. That was the tie that binds, apparently, because here we are.

It’s Year 2 of the Sporto Vilkai Cup, and the tournment has grown from five teams to eight, from one American team to two. The Lithuanian field that needed so much work one year ago has undergone major changes, and amenities now abound.

They have a scoreboard, a table and umbrella for scorekeepers, bleachers, covered dugouts, a snackbar, music between innings, computerized statistics, a nurse and medical supplies and, most notably, subtle little changes to improve the playing field itself.

These folks are serious about putting together the best baseball tournament of its kind in this part of the world, short of the European Junior LL Regional in Poland. And if they keep drawing more teams from the U.S., they’ll keep attracting European powers like Russia and the Czech Republic, both of whom passed on the opportunity to participate last year.

(The Czechs were anything but powerful Friday, being 10-runned by Irvine, California, 13-1. In the two Pool B games, Russia beat Dublin 9-5 and Vilnius handled Belarus by the same score)

Short of adding lights here in Utena, which is an expense that would have to be underwritten by some corporation, most likely Utenos Brewery, they can only play four or five games a day on this field. That limits the tournament field to 8-10 teams.

As such, some consideration is being given to playing one pool in Belarus, where they built a new 90-foot stadium a year ago, and a second pool here in Utena, with the championship game rotating between the two locations each year.

On the one hand, that possibility seems light years away. On the other, such tremendous strides were made between the first and second year, anything is possible.

WE GOT OUR first real look at Lithuanian umpires Friday. There are five of them working this tournament, and we saw the whole spectrum of ability levels.

Arnoldas Ramanaskas, a 10-yeat vet who did the Juniors World Series in Taylor, MI, last year, was outstanding. Edwardas Matusevicius is a 20-year-old in his first year, and he was very good as well.

As for the other three, including 64-year-old Edmundas JusciusN the first Llithuanian umpire going back 19 years, we’ll reserve judgment until Saturday, when all have their first plate assignments.

But this is as much a tournament for Lithuanian umpires as it is for anyone else. Sam Griffith, Bobby Gumbs and I have been offering to give an umpire clinic here for years and, in essence, we’re giving it during games, as we are working three-man mechanics, with one of the three of us working with two of the five of them each game in pool play.

KEVIN GILLMORE, please know that the 5 pair of umpire slacks, 2 shirts, 2 jackets and 2 pairs of shoes you gave me all have new Lithuanian homes now. The Lithuanian umpires wearing all the new gear looked great Friday and, according to Arnoldas, “now, we all look like umpires.”

I’M OUT!!!


Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 12

August 11, 2006

Had a relatively uneventful 10-hour drive from Kutno, Poland to Utena, Lithuania on Thursday. Bobby Gumbs drove and Sam Griffith navigated, which gave me time to reflect on the European Regional LL Tournament.THINGS I WILL MISS:

*The Italians – no one can replace Diane Harley’s Scots, but Mario Andriolo’s Italians came close.

*Jana’s – no friendlier umpire hangout exists. The food is fabulous and extremely affordable, and Hooters had better watch out if they ever franchise to the states.

*The Germans – this team was “as cool as the under side of the pillow,” just like their manager, Kai Leiter, who works with at-risk kids.

*Kilbasa at the snack bar – no day at the fields was complete without a grilled sausage and fresh-baked sourdough roll, with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and Polish “dijonaise”.

*The Austrians – Phil Chapin’s club was plucky, not overly talented but passionate enough to be successful. Tough to fill predecessor Ken MacDonald’s shoes, but Phil had the right stuff.

*Downtown Kutno – the cobblestone street, with the twin-tower Catholic church at one end and Polish history museum at the other, isn’t open to automobile traffic, which attracts townspeople to stroll, shop and simply bench-sit. The Polish people, we have come to learn, bench-sit whenever possible.

*Sweet corn on pizza – who knew?

*The Russians – These kids were given a loose leash to interact with umpires and other teams when they weren’t playing or practicing, and we found them to be polite, funny, social and an absolute joy to be around.

*Beata Kaszuba and the regional LL staff – there’s nothing these folks won’t do for the teams, umpires and other volunteers who help out during the 6-week tournament season that ended Thursday. Case in point, the gal who holds the place together, Yola the cleaning engineer, gets umpires’ laundry back to them in about 3 hours. I can’t do my OWN laundry in 3 hours, and she’s doing laundry for 12 umpires and 13 TEAMS.

*Watching the grounds crew – Johnny Smczyznski and his hard-working staff never cease to amaze. After it rained for 18 hours on Sunday, they had 3 fields prepped and in perfect shape for 10 a.m. games the next day.

*Hearts – The every-other-night hearts game in the umpires’ hospitality room was a riot. Thank you to Vic Langford for taking the queen often and taking it with hilariously funny and sarcastic British humor.

*Polish beer – but the good news is that we’re going to Utena, where they brew Utenos.

*Gil Ladoucer – Our Canadian umpire buddy announced Wednesday that he won’t be returning to Kutno next year after a 9-year run. Gil and Russ Ruslender have handled umpire scheduling and acted as Umpires in Chief of this event since 1999, and the two of them started the umpires’ involvement in supporting the Kutno orphanage.

*Ambience of the event – This is still the best-kept secret among the LL regionals. For reasons why, see above and the first 11 days’ diaries.

THINGS I WON’T MISS:

*Rain – We lost 7 games, including an entire day’s schedule, the first time it’s ever happened in this regional.

*Bees – They’re everywhere. As Bobby would say, “WHAT THE HECK!?” One flew up Perry Tucker’s pant leg and stung him WHILE he was umpiring. “He’s…..OUCH!”

*Polish roads – It’s no damned wonder you can’t get anywhere quickly in this country. We never saw anything wider than a two-lane road all day.

*Devaluation of the dollar – when I first started coming to Kutno in 2003, the exchane rate was 4-to-1 zloty to the dollar. Now, it’s less than 3-to-1.

*Poverty – it’s getting better for teams like Slovenia, Georgia, Belarus, Bulgaria and Moldova, but it still has a long ways to go, and through your ongoing support we’ll continue to help make their lives a little better.

*The Dutch – once again, a bit over-the-top and obnoxioux, although not as bad as some other Netherlands groups we’ve run into here.

*Sandpaper masquerading as toilet paper – enough said.

*Tissue-paper-thin napkins – your facial pores absorb more than these things do.

*No ice – If I wanted my drink warm, I would have ordered coffee.

ARRIVED IN UTENA in time for Sam and I to coordinate the coaches/umpires meeting for the Lithuanian Juniors Friendship Tournament, which starts Friday at 10 am local time (midnight Thursday in CA).

Dublin, CA meets Moscow in Game 1. Other teams in this five-day event are Irvine, CA; Brest, Belarus; Vilnius I, Lithuania; Vilnius II; Utena, Lithuania, and Ostrava, Czech Republic., followed by Belarus vs. Vilnius, Lithuania at 12:30 p.m.

With two California teams involved, local organizers have publicized this event quite heavily, and it’ll be interesting to see if this second annual event has picked up additional momentum.

We gave Arnoldas Ramanaskas the plate for the tourney’s opening game, Dublin-Moscow. He is a Lithuanian umpire who last year did the Juniors World Series in Taylor, MI.

I’M OUT!!!