Day 8 final day

August 14, 2009

Guest blogger Sam Griffith writing so this will be short as I do not have the calloused thumbs that Jeff has.
Very emotional day as with Jeff gone it hit home with a number of the folks that the week and tournament is over.
In the 3rd place game, Kaunas beats Sporto Vilkai the other Lithuanian team in the 8th inning 7 to 5 in a true nail bitter. Championship game has the Czech team beating Belarus 12 to 7. Game much better than the score represents. In the second game we had 4 rain delays for over an hour in total non playing time. The field crew on the field with brooms and shovels digging ditches to drain the water after torrential downpour with over 40 MPH winds, brutal, no one works harder than Tomas and his crew of kids.
In the post tournament awards ceremony, Best Hitter – Tomasz Hrubon, Czech, Best Pitcher – Aliaksandr Damilin, Belarus, MVP to Martin Smoldas, Czech.
Jeff had given young Ed a hockey style mask. Since Ed was the plate ump for the championship game, he was not on the 1st game. Ed sat in the stands for the whole 1st game practicing taking it off and making sure his hat stayed on. When it came time for his plate, he went back to his normal mask, “not enough practice time, I have to look good”.
It has been a great 5 years, have loved every minute of everyday. Would go anywhere and at anytime with Jeffas and Bobbas. If any readers are looking to travel somewhere with the most hospitable people on this earth, Lithuania is the place to go without a doubt.
As a private note, thanks to Marsha and Debs for letting Jeff and I disappear for a couple of weeks every year. Dashem – Shitas Garay – Achoo
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.


Lithuania 2009 Day 7

August 13, 2009

I hate goodbyes, but more so this year, because while I know we will be back at SOME point, I can’t say with certainty that it’ll be next year, or the year after, or the year after that.

So as the procession of well-wishers and other baseball acquaintances stop by the field here in Utena to say goodbye, the hugs and handshakes are a little longer, the tears a little larger, and the emotion just a little more heart-felt. On both sides.

It started Wednesday when Arturas and Loreta, whose farm we visit for an evening each year, made the hour-long drive over from just outside Vilnius. Then Gintaras (Eel Man) and Ina, who host us at their lake house nearby each year, paid a special visit.

This evening, tournament organizers invited all the coaches and umpires to a reception at the lake to celebrate our involvement in making this tournament what it is today.

Ironically, earlier today, as four totally-decked-out umpires took the field, I was thinking how far this event has come – maybe not so much from the perspective of number of teams, but certainly in terms of quantity and quality of umpires.

In the first Sporto Vilkai Cup, the umpires were Sam Griffith, Bobby Gumbs, Zilvinas Bareinke (Z-Man) and me. Z-Man was a first-year umpire then – now he’s done a couple of European Regionals.

In fact, the fifth different umpire will work this tourney’s championship plate on Friday. Edgaras Matciuvicius, the 24-year-old up-and-comer from the Lithuanian stable of umpire talent, gets the dish. He’s long, lean, athletic, has good mechanics, takes criticism well, and understands the game, its rules and its nuances.

We’d like to think that we’ve had a hand in making him the umpire he is today. Certainly, we’ve had a hand in dressing him – earlier in the week, I gave him three different color shirts he didn’t have and a new hockey-style mask, and Sam gave him new ball bags. Today, Sam gave him his plate slacks.

FINAL POOL PLAY standings: Czech Republic 3-1, Belarus 3-1, Vilnius-Lithuania 2-2, Kaunas-Lithuania 2-2, Poland 0-4.

The defending champ Czechs meet Belarus in Friday’s title game. In their pool play game, the Czechs won, 10-9. Kaunas and rival Vilnius battle for third.

ONLY IN LITHUANIA Dept.: Funny scene no. 1- Belarus batter gets hit by a pitch, throws his bat away and starts to run to first. “Not so fast,” says plate umpire Sam Griffith, explaining to the batter, and then the coach, that the hitter must make SOME attempt, even a flinch, to get away from the pitch; otherwise, the pitch is simply called a ball. So the batter retrieves his bat, steps into the box and proceeds to get plunked by the very next pitch.

Funny scene no. 2 – In my plate game Wednesday, Belarus was bunting over and over, and with no chalk to identify a batter’s box, its hitters kept creeping closer and closer to pitcher. So I called time, and attempted to take the bat out of the hitter’s hands to use the knob to etch a line in the dirt. But the batter didn’t understand why I wanted his bat and wouldn’t let go, so it became a mini tug-of-war that I finally won, but only after his coach told him what I was trying to do.

Even funnier – after I drew the line that would serve as the front of the batter’s box, the hitter proceeded to straddle it rather than standing behind it, eliciting even more good-natured laughter.

INTERPRETATION DEPT.: I asked one of the English-speaking Lithuanians to interpret what the Kaunas team was chanting during its game against Belarus Thursday. The answer: “We came here to win, and we’re not afraid of anybody.” Don’t think I’ve heard that one in the states.

FEET-FIRST? When I saw a player slide feet-first into first base on Monday, I had to think long and hard about whether I’d ever seen it before. Now I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it this week

SENTIMENT IS running 20-1 in favor of my decision to call time and keep Belarus from pulling a hidden-ball trick on Poland when they were leading 11-0 with one out to go. In fact, Pat Pozzell, the head of baseball officiating for the Big Ten Conference said, “I agree with the decision in that situation. The game is about strategy, not trickery.”

CUP RUNNETH Over Dept.: Only a secure umpire walks over to the fence between innings, reaches in his pants, pulls out his cup and hands it to his wife. That was Z-Man’s special moment with wife Lina this afternoon. I didn’t pursue details.

FOUR THINGS we’d like to see before we come back to Utena: large coffee cups, multi-ply toilet paper, peppers to shake on your pizza and fabric softener.

I AM TRAVELING home Friday to attend a wedding; as such, Sam Griffith will report on the final games in a first-ever guest-blog on this site.

I’M OUT!!!
Jeff Chapman
MLC Worldwide, Inc.
Cell 925 413-9400

Sent via Blackberry on AT&T

Lithuania 2009 Day 6

August 12, 2009

One of the great joys of coming to Lithuania the past five years is the people. It is born out every minute of every day that we are here, and believe me when I say that as the departure day nears, the sadness deepens – mine especially, since I have to leave the morning of Friday’s final games.

These people have demonstrated over and over that their hospitality knows no bounds. And no matter how much we do in return, it doesn’t seem like enough.

But what we do, we do well. Each year since we began coming over to run this tournament and train umpires, we also coordinate the donation of equipment, jerseys, caps, umpire gear and pins at home and cart them halfway around the world, oftentimes in lieu of bringing our OWN clothing and equipment.

it’s nice to receive, but it’s infinitely more rewarding to give.

Before this week’s Sporto Vilkai Cup even began, Sam Griffith gave each umpire a hat and two ball bags emblazoned with the Lithuanian Baseball logo, courtesy of District 68. I offered up an array of different color umpire shirts, courtesy of Jack Townsend and Zane Clutts, as well as some new hockey-style masks, courtesy of Niles-Centerville LL.

Before Wednesday’s all-Lithuanian battle between Vilnius and Kaunas, I presented the coaches of Kaunas and Utena with new sets of uniforms, courtesy of Tassajara LL.

Perhaps I am most proud of the donation we did not make in person. Saulius Kalanta, the brother of our tournament director, Raimundas, lives in the Lithuanian town of Druskininkai, a little north of the Poland border, and they just started baseball there last year. The two sets of uniforms, courtesy of Granada LL, as well as some catcher’s equipment and cleats, “will inspire other boys and girls to want to play,” said Raimundas.

To all those who sent donations with us, no matter how large or small, please know that everything has a new home. And that there were a lot of smiles, hugs and sincere appreciation shown in return.

STANDINGS AFTER Day Three: Czech Republic 2-1 (clinched spot in title game), Belarus 2-1, Lithuania-Kaunas 2-1, Lithuania-Vilnius 2-2, Poland 0-3.

The Czechs beat Belarus 10-9 to clinch a spot in the final game. The winner of Thursday’s Belarus-Kaunas game will also play for the championship. Vilnius swept a doubleheader Wednesday to clinch a spot in Friday’s third-place game. Poland will finish fifth no matter what happens Thursday.

WATCHING TV: Andres Biedrins of the Golden State Warriors just scored the game’s first hoop for Latvia in its game against host Lithuania in Kaunas. The game is an exhibition to commemorate the 70-year anniversary of Lithuania’s win over Latvia in the European Championships title game in this same building that was built specifically for that game in 1939.

WHO KNEW DEPT.: Poland’s team in this tournament is from the northern town of Dzialdowo. It is subsidized by an ongoing annual grant from the New York Yankees, who have a front-office staffer from that town.

I’M OUT!!!
Jeff Chapman
MLC Worldwide, Inc.
Cell 925 413-9400

Sent via Blackberry on AT&T

Lithuania 2009 Day 5

August 11, 2009

OK all you umpires, what would YOU have done?

I am not second-guessing myself, not in the least, but there are some here who are questioning it, so I throw it out there to y’all.

Belarus was leading Poland 11-0 with two out and no one on in the 5th. We were one out from being done.

Poland hadn’t been able to get out of its own way for an hour and a half. Despite what I wrote yesterday about balks being generally ignored, we called 10 in this game – all for the same reason (failure to stop and set), and all came after repeated warnings and mini-clinics.

Anyway, Belarus was loving this stomping it was putting on Poland, and its kids were even heard to laugh and mock the Poles at times. It was that bad.

So anyway, it was the top of the 5th, two were out and the Poles had a rare baserunner via a walk. I was the 3rd base umpire, so I was “inside” and closest of the umpires to the pitcher when the shortstop asked for time. All the infielders came to the mound. At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I quickly realized the pitcher didn’t have the ball anymore, so I knew the hidden-ball play was coming.

It was my personal moment of truth – let it play out, run the risk of the final out being made on a “gimmick” play that would give the Belarus kids one final reason to laugh at their opponents, or call “time” and force the ball to be returned to the pitcher.

I chose the latter.

Most all my fellow umpires agreed with me, but a couple of the Lithuanians questioned why I would not allow Belarus to do something that’s well within the rules.

My answer: it’s all about respecting the game and NOT disrespecting your opponent. I didn’t want to see the scene I thought MIGHT occur, so I kept it from happening. As co-tournsament director and co-umpire in chief, I made a decision that I thought was in the best interest of the game and the tournament,

So, that said, what would YOU have done?

COOL SCENE: I looked around at about 10 o’clock, and what did I see? Sam Griffith had the plate for Czech-Republic vs. host Vilnius, Lithuanian umpires Zilvinas Bareinke and Edgaras Matusevicius had the bases and were wearing their new light blue shirts, courtesy of Jack Townsend and Zane Clutts, the crowd was sizable and boisterous, albeit smoking and drinking, Poland and Belarus were warming up for the next game, and horses were being trained on the racetrack that surrounds the field. It was baseball”s version of heaven on earth.

AFTER LOSING 13-3 to Belarus in their first game Tuesday, Poland’s players laid in the bleachers as though they’d just played a 20-inning marathon, then proceeded to lose 17-2 to Kaunas and surrendered after 3 1/2 innings, citing a lack of pitching…as though they had any measurable pitching to begin with.

STANDINGS AFTER two days: Belarus 2-0, Kaunas-Lithuania 2-0, Czech Republic 1-1, Vilnius-Lithuania 0-2, Poland 0-2.

I’M OUT!!!

Jeff Chapman
MLC Worldwide, Inc.
Cell 925 413-9400

Sent via Blackberry on AT&T

Lithuania 2009 Day 4

August 10, 2009

The Czechs are taking infield and the catcher’s not wearing a mask. Safety issue – address it.

The Kaunas catcher has a mask, but it doesn’t have a dangling throat protector. Safety issue – deal with it.

Game starts and both Kaunas coaches go out to coach the bases, leaving no adult in the dugout. We ignore it.

Every kid, it seems, is wearing a rope necklace. We ignore it.

Kid swing two bats in the on-deck circle. We ignore it.

Coach puts on a mask and comes out to warm up a pitcher between innings. We ignore it.

Baserunners clap their hands in an attempt to break the pitcher’s concentration. It’s not in the rules, but we don’t let them do it at home and it’s annoying, so we tell them to stop.

Balks galore, but not on attempted pickoffs so much as just awkward pitching motions. We ignore them and use the opportunities to instruct.

Parents drinking beer and smoking in the stands right behind home plate. We ignore it.

We’re at the Sporto Vilkai Cup in Utena, Lithuania. It’s not a Little League event – it’s a baseball event being contested by mostly Little League rules.

We bring our strict, rules-oriented, Little League way of umpiring halfway around the world, but it doesn’t take very long before we throw it out the window and morph into the umpires we think they NEED us to be.

Sam Griffith and I are co-tournament directors and co-umpires in chief, and if we told these teams we were going to play the game naked, run the bases the opposite direction and walk on two balls instead of four, they’d agree in a heartbeat.

That’s how much credibility we have here.

But part of the reason we HAVE credibility, in addition to being Americans, is that we have adopted the role of facilitators moreso than hard-core umpires when we’re here. It’s way more about teaching than mandating. It’s a philosophy that needs to be embraced, and it’s not for everyone, witness a number of one-and-done Americans who have insisted on bringing their my-way-or-the-highway umpiring style to the European LL Regional and were either too frustrated to re-apply or were asked not to.

We have talked over and over about this since Sam and I started coming to Europe in the early 2000s. We see things all the time that we’d have to call at home, or if we were still on the Kutno invitation list, that we’d have to call there, but that we don’t call here.

First off, if we green-booked these games (the LL rulebook is green) we’d have to explain the calls, and that could be problematic, depending on who you’re talking to and how much English and/or gesturing they understand. Second, you have to wonder about the value of micro-managing a game teams over here are still trying to learn.

Trust me when I say that the games here have little or no flow to them as it is – if we start interjecting ourselves into the games more than we already have to, they will be impossible to watch and the kids will hate playing.

And no one wants that.

So we “swallow our whistles,” so to speak, electing to let the game be played without an inordinate number of stoppages, and we look for teaching moments before, during and after games.

That’s why we enjoy coming here, and why we think they like having us.

FIRST-DAY RESULTS were a bit surprising. Kaunas-Lithuania rallied for seven runs in the top of the 7th to beat defending champ Czech Republic 10-7 and Belarus broke a 4-4 tie in the 5th and edged host Vilnius 5-4. Our fifth team, Poland, arrived today and will play a double-header Tuesday.

I’M OUT!!!
Jeff Chapman
MLC Worldwide, Inc.
Cell 925 413-9400

Sent via Blackberry on AT&T

Lithuania 2009 Day 3

August 9, 2009

If I’ve been asked once, I’ve been asked……at least twice – who are these two guys, Sam Griffith and Bobby Gumbs, with whom you umpire all over the globe each August?

Ironically, I’ve been wondering the same thing 🙂

So as we made the drive from Lithuania’s capitol, Vilnius, to the site of this week’s Sporto Vilkai Cup in Utena, I turned investigative reporter.

Here’s the skinny:

Sam is Umpire in Chief of District 68 and lives in Mission Viejo, CA. He’s 55, was born in New York to Australian parents, lived Down Under for a spell and attended Berkeley High and the University of San Francisco before finding his way to L..A.

He married way up when he found Deb, his bride of 32 years, and they have two 20-something boys and a grandson.

Sam’s been umpiring 22 years. He did his first of six years worth of European Regionals in Kutno, Poland in 2001, has done all five Sporto Vilkai Cups, has been nominated to do the West Regional in San Bernardino a hundred times, has (miraculously) avoided being selected every time, and can recite the rulebook by letter, number and page (annoying).

Bobby is a youthful 59, was born in the Dutch colony of Aruba, moved to Holland to study and find work, married up (trend developing)when he found Lida, and has one son.

He’s been umpiring 18 years and has done three of the four possible LLB World Series (Majors in Williamsport, PA; Juniors in Taylor, MI, and Big League in Easley, SC, which concluded just three days ago. He’s done 11 years worth of European Regionals and all five Lithuanian tournaments, and there’s not a baseball player, coach or administrator on the continent who doesn’t know him (he’s a 6-foot-5 black “comedian” with unmistakable mechanics and mannerisms).

For those friends of Sam and Bobby who have been referred to this space and who don’t know me, I was born, raised and still reside in the Eastbay of Northern California. I am 56, I cashed in way above my pay grade 32 years ago when I tied the knot with Marsha, and we have two 20-somethings. I started umpiring 13 years ago, have done five years worth of European Regionals and all five Lithuanian tournaments.

So how and when did The Three Amigos (our given name in this part of the world) hook up? At the European LL regional in Poland in 2002.

Sam and Bobby had already met the previous year in Kutno, but I am credited with being the straw that stirred the drink (an apt description after last night, but that’s another story for another day).

Since our first of five years together in Poland in ’02, we’ve also umpired in Germany in ’03, given a clinic together in Scotland in ’04 and been together all five years in Lithuania since ’05.

In some respects, we are as different as, well, black and white. In other respects, like umpiring, we share a passion that literally knows no bounds.

PLAY BALL: It’s time for baseball. Come Monday morning, defending champ Czech Republic squares off against Kaunas (Lithuania), followed by Belarus meeting host Vilnius. Poland has a bye.

The economy kept the California team from coming, and Sweden bailed just the other day.

So the aforementioned five teams will play a round robin culminating Friday with the championship and third-place games.

We have eight umpires for the 12-game tournament: the three of us and five from Lithuania. We’ll be teaching as much as we’ll be umpiring, although these five are pretty much the cream of the Lithuanian crop.

SEEN AT THE COACHES meeting tonight: the Belarus coach wearing a hat from Ladera Ranch LL, which visited here last year, and the Kaunas coach wearing a Viejo LL t-shirt (SoCal donation from a few years ago).

Until Monday…..

I’M OUT!!!
Jeff Chapman
MLC Worldwide, Inc.
Cell 925 413-9400

Sent via Blackberry on AT&T

Lithuania 2009 Day 2

August 8, 2009

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.

I’M OUT!!!
Jeff Chapman
MLC Worldwide, Inc.
Cell 925 413-9400

Sent via Blackberry on AT&T