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.