I’ve seen photos of the Ladera LL team from SoCal having arrived in Vilnius to typical Lithuanian fanfare. I’ve read emails about their field trips, including an 8-story-tall water park slide experience that one of the kids called “sick.”
That’s “sick” – as in awesome.
Now, with the 4th annual Sporto Vilkai Cup set to start in a few days, it’s my turn to roll into town.
After having spent the last 3 days in Mannheim, Germany visiting my brother Jay, who is a Lt.Col. in the Army, I had a painless 2 1/2-hour flight to Vilnius that started off quite humorously in the Frankfurt airport.
I checked the maximum weight luggage I could (44 lbs. for a within-Europe flight), and had to carry on the rest, including a bag containing my umpire gear and some giveaways that raised concerns at the security checkpoint. A more senior person was summoned to come over and inspect what the scanner was questioning.
“You have a lot of metal in there,” the man said as he looked at the screen and waited for me to open the bag.
“You’re right,” I replied. “I’m an umpire. My equipment’s in there.”
First, I showed him my facemask. He took it, nodded his head approvingly, turned toward the young man who had done the scan, put my mask to his face, stuck out his right hand and bellowed “Strike!”
Everyone in the area laughed.
“What else do you have?” he asked.
I showed him my steel-toed plate shoes and a bag of San Ramon Valley LL pins.
“Why steel in the shoes?” he asked.
“So I don’t break a toe when a foul ball goes straight down,” I explained.
Again, he nodded approvingly.
“And the bag of…what are these, pins?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Would you like one?”
“He turned, spoke to the scanner operator in German for a moment, then turned back to me and said, “We’d like TWO!”
As I left, these two German men were proudly wearing their SRVLL pins and not caring in the slightest that they had no idea where Danville, CA was.
But my annual Eastern European baseball/goodwill adventure was off to a rousing start.
As we prepared to board the twin-prop, 50-seat, kinda-scary-looking Lithuanian Airlines plane, my equipment bag became the subject of controversy again.
“Sir, can I take that bag from you and put it in the belly of the plane?” an airport official asked, “‘Cause I don’t think it’s gonna fit in the overhead compartment on this small plane.”
“Sure,” I said. “Say, how come you speak better English than I do?”
“Because I’m from San Diego,” said Bill Lieber, who retired U.S. Air Force, met a German girl, married her and never left.
Before he rolled my bag away, I gave him a pin. And, oh by the way, he DID know where Danville was. “Up there by ‘Frisco,” he said.
I was met at the airport by the Bareinke family – Lithuanian umpire Zilvinas, wife Lina and daughter Dominique – and whisked away to dinner. Can’t remember the last time I had Mexican food in Germany and Chinese food in Lithuania…in the same day.
Sunday is another field trip day for the American team – to Trakai, the island castle just outside of town. As for me, I’ll be joining Zilvinas, Bobby Gumbs and Arnoldas Ramanaskas to umpire a 20-over game between Lithuania and Belarus. Arnoldas worked a game between the two teams by himself earlier today. Later Sunday, travel plans willing, my co-tournament director and co-chief umpire, Sam Griffith, arrives.