Had a relatively uneventful 10-hour drive from Kutno, Poland to Utena, Lithuania on Thursday. Bobby Gumbs drove and Sam Griffith navigated, which gave me time to reflect on the European Regional LL Tournament.THINGS I WILL MISS:
*The Italians – no one can replace Diane Harley’s Scots, but Mario Andriolo’s Italians came close.
*Jana’s – no friendlier umpire hangout exists. The food is fabulous and extremely affordable, and Hooters had better watch out if they ever franchise to the states.
*The Germans – this team was “as cool as the under side of the pillow,” just like their manager, Kai Leiter, who works with at-risk kids.
*Kilbasa at the snack bar – no day at the fields was complete without a grilled sausage and fresh-baked sourdough roll, with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and Polish “dijonaise”.
*The Austrians – Phil Chapin’s club was plucky, not overly talented but passionate enough to be successful. Tough to fill predecessor Ken MacDonald’s shoes, but Phil had the right stuff.
*Downtown Kutno – the cobblestone street, with the twin-tower Catholic church at one end and Polish history museum at the other, isn’t open to automobile traffic, which attracts townspeople to stroll, shop and simply bench-sit. The Polish people, we have come to learn, bench-sit whenever possible.
*Sweet corn on pizza – who knew?
*The Russians – These kids were given a loose leash to interact with umpires and other teams when they weren’t playing or practicing, and we found them to be polite, funny, social and an absolute joy to be around.
*Beata Kaszuba and the regional LL staff – there’s nothing these folks won’t do for the teams, umpires and other volunteers who help out during the 6-week tournament season that ended Thursday. Case in point, the gal who holds the place together, Yola the cleaning engineer, gets umpires’ laundry back to them in about 3 hours. I can’t do my OWN laundry in 3 hours, and she’s doing laundry for 12 umpires and 13 TEAMS.
*Watching the grounds crew – Johnny Smczyznski and his hard-working staff never cease to amaze. After it rained for 18 hours on Sunday, they had 3 fields prepped and in perfect shape for 10 a.m. games the next day.
*Hearts – The every-other-night hearts game in the umpires’ hospitality room was a riot. Thank you to Vic Langford for taking the queen often and taking it with hilariously funny and sarcastic British humor.
*Polish beer – but the good news is that we’re going to Utena, where they brew Utenos.
*Gil Ladoucer – Our Canadian umpire buddy announced Wednesday that he won’t be returning to Kutno next year after a 9-year run. Gil and Russ Ruslender have handled umpire scheduling and acted as Umpires in Chief of this event since 1999, and the two of them started the umpires’ involvement in supporting the Kutno orphanage.
*Ambience of the event – This is still the best-kept secret among the LL regionals. For reasons why, see above and the first 11 days’ diaries.
THINGS I WON’T MISS:
*Rain – We lost 7 games, including an entire day’s schedule, the first time it’s ever happened in this regional.
*Bees – They’re everywhere. As Bobby would say, “WHAT THE HECK!?” One flew up Perry Tucker’s pant leg and stung him WHILE he was umpiring. “He’s…..OUCH!”
*Polish roads – It’s no damned wonder you can’t get anywhere quickly in this country. We never saw anything wider than a two-lane road all day.
*Devaluation of the dollar – when I first started coming to Kutno in 2003, the exchane rate was 4-to-1 zloty to the dollar. Now, it’s less than 3-to-1.
*Poverty – it’s getting better for teams like Slovenia, Georgia, Belarus, Bulgaria and Moldova, but it still has a long ways to go, and through your ongoing support we’ll continue to help make their lives a little better.
*The Dutch – once again, a bit over-the-top and obnoxioux, although not as bad as some other Netherlands groups we’ve run into here.
*Sandpaper masquerading as toilet paper – enough said.
*Tissue-paper-thin napkins – your facial pores absorb more than these things do.
*No ice – If I wanted my drink warm, I would have ordered coffee.
ARRIVED IN UTENA in time for Sam and I to coordinate the coaches/umpires meeting for the Lithuanian Juniors Friendship Tournament, which starts Friday at 10 am local time (midnight Thursday in CA).
Dublin, CA meets Moscow in Game 1. Other teams in this five-day event are Irvine, CA; Brest, Belarus; Vilnius I, Lithuania; Vilnius II; Utena, Lithuania, and Ostrava, Czech Republic., followed by Belarus vs. Vilnius, Lithuania at 12:30 p.m.
With two California teams involved, local organizers have publicized this event quite heavily, and it’ll be interesting to see if this second annual event has picked up additional momentum.
We gave Arnoldas Ramanaskas the plate for the tourney’s opening game, Dublin-Moscow. He is a Lithuanian umpire who last year did the Juniors World Series in Taylor, MI.