Lithuanian umpire adventure Day 2

I heard about this field three years ago. Frank Harris, who was the manager of the first U.S. team to play in the Sporto Vilkai Cup, was told that his team could practice on it after they arrived in Vilnius from Mission Viejo in August 2005.

I hadn’t thought much about the story he told me until Sunday, when Arnoldas Ramanaskas, Zilvinas Bareinke, Bobby Gumbs and I made some small measure of history on this field by becoming the first four-man umpiring crew to work a game in this sports-crazed Lithuanian capitol city.

It just so happened the top two teams in Lithuania-Belarus interleague play met on Sunday, and it just so happened that Arnoldas was scheduled to work the plate and had no partners.

So Z-Man, Bobby and I jumped in and helped, and in a game that went 13 innings and 3+ hours, Brest rallied from an 8-1 deficit to upset the top-ranked Vilnius Vikings 9-8.

And that’s all well and good, but for me (OK, I’m a bit of a safety freak), I’m just happy no one was injured.

It’s exactly the minefield that Frank Harris said it was. Rocks everywhere. Two-feet-deep post holes, with no posts. Rocks everywhere. Metal poles in inexplicable places. Rocks everywhere. No backstop, save for the 20×40-foot screen that stands 20 feet behind the plate, meaning that balls disappear into the dense forest behind five times per inning. Rocks everywhere. No fences, meaning all spectators are always in harm’s way,

Did I mention there are rocks everywhere?

It’s a cow pasture without cows.

A quarry without a crane.

But the Lithuanians and Bellarussians are so passionate about baseball, they are diving all over this field -affectionately called Potato Field by locals – making plays and not thinking twice about the scrapes, cuts, blood and bandages that go along with it.

 

It’s all about the baseball, and no one’s enbarrassed by the conditions or making excuses.

It is what it is.

It’s the only field in Vilnius, an incredible 15 teams (FIFTEEN TEAMS!) call it their home, and yet even after 8 years, the field doesn’t look any different than the day someone pried up the first rock.

Why? Because the land is co-owned by a Lithuanian politician and a Norwegian corporation, and those two are at odds as to has control. While the parties litigate, Vilnius Little League, the Lithuania-Belarus interleague teams and other field users have no alternative but to take it or leave it – as is, sadly.

HISTORY MADE: Here’s the radio report of yesterday’s game that aired in Vilnius Sunday night:

 

“Brest beat Vilnius 9-8 in 13 innings in interleague tournament play today, and it was the first time in the history of baseball in Vilnius that there were 4 official umpires working a game, two from Lithuania, one from USA, and one from Holland.”

MONDAY, WE switch locations to Utena, about 60 miles NE from Vilnius, where play will begin in the Sporto Vilkai Cup on Tuesday.

I’m OUT!!!

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