There was a lot of fist-pumping going on Wednesday at the European Regional Little League championship here in Kutno, Poland.And no one was pumping more than Moldova. Yes, Moldova, which shocked Poland 4-2 in front of the largest crowd of the tournament thus far.
To appreciate how far the Moldova LL program has come, witness this story from Gil Ladoucer, the pride of Canada who has been umpiring and helping to run this tournament since 1998.
Moldova came to the European Regional for the first time in 1999. “Peace Corps Pat,” as he was known here, gathered up 12 Moldovan street kids and brought them to Kutno. Most had never played any baseball – certainly the 4 girls hadn’t.
Moldova drew Saudi Arabia in its first game. Score after a half-inning: Saudi 35, Moldova coming up. Or were they?
“Saudi’s starting pitcher was 6-foot-3 and he threw hard,” Gil recalled. “His warmup pitches were all over the place and the Moldovan were scared to death. Pat came to me and said they wanted to quit. I saw Steve Keaner (the president of LL) leaning over the center field fence and I said, ‘You can’t quit. We have to legalize the game.’ ”
So, in an unprecedented move, it was agreed that the Saudi pitcher would lob the ball in, the Moldovans wouldn’t swing and every pitch would be called a strike. When Saudi was on offense, the same thing would happen.
Sixty-three called strikes later, the game was over.
Danville’s Russ Ruslender had the plate for Moldova’s game the next day.
“Their first batter is this little girl – her legs were about as thin as a pencil,” Russ said. “I remember thinking, if she gets hit by a pitch, I’m going to spend the next half hour picking up the pieces.”
Fast-forward to 2004, when three 25-year-old single engineers answered a newspaper ad to take a LL team to the European championships.
They had no money, little equipment and no talent. They went 0-6 that year, then 5-2 last year (third-place), and now this.
When they left the field Wednesday, the Moldova coaches looked at each other and pumped their fists. When I asked them how happy they were with the result, they replied, “VERY happy.”
Thursday, Moldova draws Bulgaria, which was 10-runned by Germany on Wednesday. On Friday, it’s Moldova-Germany.
35-0 vs. Saudi is little more than a footnote now.
Other fist-pumpers Wednesday: Ukraine, which shocked Lithuania; Slovenia, which won only its second EMEA game ever, handling Georgia, and Italy, which stunned Netherlands.
WHERE THEY’RE FROM: This year’s EMEA participants:
Georgia YMCA from Tbilisi; Apeldoorn LL from Apeldoorn, Netherlands; AIBC LL from Vienna, Austria; Venato LL from Verona, Italy; Ljubljana LL from Ljubljana, Slovenia; Brateevo LL from Moscow, Russia; Brest LL from Brest, Belarus; Kirovograd-Center LL from Kirovograd, Ukraine; Vilnius LL from Vilnius, Lithuania; Doupnitza LL from Doupnitza, Bulgaria; Kvint LL from Triaspol, Moldova; Baden-Wuerttemberg LL from Mannheim, Germany, and Kutno LL from Kutno, Poland.
NOTES: Slovenia and Georgia, the neediest in the tournament, were the recipients of a dozen gloves each, as well as District 68 all-star and Dublin LL challenger t-shirts Wednesday…A man was seen wearing a Scotland Baseball cap at Jana’s…Happy 29th anniversary to Sam and Debra Griffith. Sam’s here and Debs is in SoCal – not sure who’s getting the best end of that deal.