Jeff Chapman LL Diary Day 18

August 16, 2006

Tuesday night was the Utena sendoff, and it involved tournament organizers, umpires, the Utena team and families, and the Irvine team that was being hosted in Utena.

It was a BIG bash.

It was held at the lakefront, weekend getaway of one of the Utena team parents (Eel Man, aka Gintaras).

Wednesday was the farewell celebration put on by Sporto Vilkai at the summer home of Ignas’ parents outside Vilnius. This party was for the tournament organizers, umpires, the two Vilnius teams, the parents, and the Dublin team that they hosted.

It was a BIG bash.

The point is, these people know how to throw a party, how to celebrate an event, how to be hospitable. Each night since Sam Griffith, Bobby Gumbs and I arrived from Poland, we have been catered to. At times, we have had to say something to the extent of “Guys, sorry, but we gotta get some sleep.”

They put us up in a nice hotel in Utena, away from the coaches and kids, so that we could get some rest after our 12-hour days at the field. We had large private rooms, while the Lithuanian umpires stayed in dormitory-style housing. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Quite frankly, it was a little embarrasing.

Each day during the tournament, they had pizza and other hot food delivered for us. Even when we said “No, thank you.”

Wednesday, they moved us to a hotel in Vilnius so that we could be closer to the airport for our flight home at 6 a.m. Thursday (8 p.m. Wedesday in CA).

Over and over again, they wanted to know: What else can we do to make your stay better?

They recognize that as ambassadors for Lithuanian tourism, what they are building here has some potential. Five years ago, Lithuania began making a push to attract tourists, particularly Americans.

And through baseball, they are accomplishing their mission. This particular push started with a couple of American umpires, and now there are two American teams participating, too. And bringing extra parents as fans.

And not one person we talked to could find a negative thing to say about their stay, which of course will promote interest by others to come.

And yet, for The Three Amigos, as we are called here, the clarity of the big picture is muddied somewhat by the Lithuanians’ over-the-top hospitality.

Last year, Sporto Vilkai coach Virmidas Neverauskas and his wife slept on the floor and insisted that the Irvine coach sleep in their bed. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

This year, Virmidas’ team slept in tents about 30 yards away from the buildings that housed the Dublin team. It rained at least two of the nights that we were here, and even though the Lithuanian kids said they had fun sleeping outdoors, you have to wonder if they’re just putting a happy face on the situation.

I asked some other Lithuanian folks associated with the tournament where they were staying, and their vague answers indicated to me that they really didn’t want us to know.

And if you think that the housing shortage in the Utena area is bad now, wait a year or two when they get another field built and go from eight to 16 teams.

Their attitude is: Don’t worry; we’ll figure it out.

BOBBY GOT PULLED over by Lithuanian police Wednesday for doing the equivalent of 84 in a 55 on the open highway between Utena and Vilnius.

The cop told Bobby he was speeding, that he needed to see his license, and to get out of his car and INTO the backseat of the police car.

Fifteen minutes later, Bobby came back. He avoided what would have been a $433 USD ticket by telling the cops that he and his American friends were volunteer umpires who had paid their own way to come to Lithuania to umpire baseball in Utena.

That was all they needed to hear.

Time to come home.

For the final time on this trip…I’M OUT!!!