The game had ended, the rain was becoming more intense and Germany manager Kai Leiter was in a celebratory mood.And why not? His team had just put its stamp on Pool B by routing Moldova, the only other unbeaten in the group, 15-3, in Kutno, Poland at the European LL Regional on Friday.
So how did Leiter celebrate? By running 20 laps between the foul poles on the adjacent 90-foot diamond. Why? “Because I lose a bet with my team – I said we could not 10-run a team as good as Moldova,” said Leiter.
If Moldova is good, then what does that make Germany? In three games, they’ve outscored their opponents 30-3. Barring the unexpected, Germany and Russia, which has outscored its four opponents 41-1, will play for the berth in Williamsport next Wednesday night.
This is Leiter’s third go-round in Kutno, and the one thing that is abundantly clear from talking to him, watching him coach and the way he interfaces with his team is this: the man respects life and has a genuine appreciation for everything he has, tangible or not.
And if coaching at the European Regional and seeing needy teams like Romania, Belarus, Slovenia and Georgia doesn’t give you enough perspective on life, walking the streets of Ellwangen working with at-risk kids sure does.
That’s what the 41-year-old Leiter does when he’s not coaching baseball.
“It’s given me a whole different perspective on life, and working with people,” he said. “I see kids everyday, in their street surroundings, and it’s my job to get them to trust me, so that maybe they take advantage of the resources I offer from the state and city.”
The street kids of
Ellwangen, pop. 20,000, about 100 km from Stuttgart, come from Germany, of course, but also from Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. They have a variety of issues – drugs, alcohol, homelessness, hunger…you name it.
That’s forced Leiter to learn how to adapt and connect to kids with complex and diverse backgrounds. Sounds a lot like coaching, doesn’t it?
Leiter first came to Kutno in 2001. He had no idea what to expect. What he saw changed his life forever, he said.
“I saw the Romania team – they have nothing. They eat very little,” he remembered. “My team, they are throwing away half empty sodas and sandwiches – the whole thing made me sick to my stomach.”
So Leiter helps out the less-fortunate teams here as best he can. And he reminds his own team on an ongoing basis how appreciative they should be for what they have.
Hard not to root for a guy like Leiter, who’s a winner in every sense of the word.
ONLY IN KUTNO DEPT.: Item One: Georgia was warming up for its game against Belarus and one of the team’s balls rolled away and in my direction. I picked it up and realized immediately there was something different. I looked in manager Nuzar Kapanadze’s direction with an inquisitive look on my face. “I stitched them,” he said. “I have these balls 3 years. Cover comes off, I sew it back on.” I was left speechless. The Georgians should have about two dozen new balls by their game Saturday.
Item Two: In the fourth inning of the Moldova-Germany game, which was played in a steady light rain, Moldova’s pitcher stepped to deliver the ball, his left foot slid down the front of the mound and he fell on his butt. Mound problem? Perhaps to some extent, but none of the Moldovans have cleats.and the pitcher’s flat-soled tennis shoes stood no chance against Mother Nature. We’re working on a solution for this issue.
NOTES: We dodged rain on and off all day Friday and ultimately got in four of the six scheduled games…Net-net: Pool A is led by Russia at 4-0, followed by Italy at 2-1 and Austria at 1-1. In Pool B, it’s Germany at 3-0, followed by Moldova at 2-1 and Poland at 1-1.