It’s Mark Caress Day at Granada LL in Livermore today and even though I am half a world away, I am there in spirit, believe me.
Mark passed a couple of weeks ago in his sleep at the way-too-young age of 54. He was the consummate LL volunteer, a teacher and an inspiration – not just to folks at Granada, but to District 57 and beyond.
I keep thinking about his wife, Mary, who was almost always in the stands when he umpired. I hope she will continue to attend games now and again. But even if she doesn’t, I know she knows how loved and respected Mark was.
A couple of months ago, District 57 took over the San Bernardino LL complex for a weekend and held a tournament. Kate Hart from Tassajara was designated as the Umpire in Chief, and Mark and I were among the invitees.
As we approached championship Sunday, Kate asked my opinion about who I thought should have the plate for the championship game. I suggested Mark.
Why? Because he always struck me as a pro in amateur’s clothing, someone who took every little detail to heart and umpired every game, no matter how seemingly insignificant, as though it was the ultimate title game. My feeling was that Mark belonged behind the plate on the field where in the next week LL will crown a west champion and send that team off to Williamsport. It just seemed right.
Three years ago, when the Lithuanian baseball contingent visited District 57, I was looking for volunteers to perform all sorts of tasks. Mark took the week off work and drove one of the three vans we used to get the Lithuanians to and from games, tours, shopping and meal stops. I was surprised when Mark volunteered – in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been. That’s just who he was.
I am not in Livermore today as the community remembers Mark, but I’m raising a toast nonetheless – to Mark Caress, an American hero, a selfless volunteer, a model umpire and a respected friend.
ONE YEAR AGO this month, the Lithuanian seniors won the European title and qualified for the World Series in Bangor, ME, but two of the players who helped the team get there didn’t go.
Dovydas Neverauskas and Edvardas Matusevicius were among 38 European players invited to Major League Baseball’s tryout camp in Italy.
Despite missing two of their best players, the Lithuanians went 2-2 in Maine. And both players impressed enough at the MLB camp that Dovydas signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates – the first-ever homegrown Lithuanian product to do so – and Edvardas was wooed by the Pirates, Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Edvardas opted not to sign, and instead will attend his senior year of high school in New Jersey as part of an international exchange program facilitated by Will Gordon, Lithuania’s Director of Foreign Relations.
“As a family, we felt his education was the first priority,” said Edvardas’ brother, Edgaras. “The MLB teams said they’ll continue to watch him in high school and then at a U.S. college.”
Edvardas was growing tired of the outfield work at the camp, even though he continued to grade high. He wanted to pitch. Finally, toward the end of the camp, just to appease the kid, MLB officials relented. And while Edvardas’ fastball was only OK at about 77 mph – Dovydas threw about 87 mph – his curveball graded out as one of the best in the camp.
“If he’s going to be an outfielder, then his hitting has to improve,” said Edgaras. “If he’s going to be a pitcher, then his fastball has to improve. Ether way, he has work to do.”
Either way, an exciting time for Lietuva beisbolas – one native Lithuanian signed, one on the watch list, and greater visibility for all.
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