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Jun '09 15

Lithuanian baseballers bring their ‘pirstines’ and ‘lazdos’ to the heartland of America

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Press Release Russian International Baseball

(Moline, Illinois USA – June 14, 2009)

Baseball is played in over one hundred and thirty countries in the world.  In Lithuania baseball gloves are called ‘pirstines’ and baseball bats are called ‘lazdos’.  The adult Lithuanian baseball team, Kaunas Lituanica has brought their best ‘pirstines’ and ‘lazdos’ to play some good baseball in the north central section of the United States, traditionally known as the American heartland.  Kaunas Lituanica is a club team from the country’s top league known as the Lithuanian Baseball League.  The team arrived to Chicago, Illinois for a sixteen day tour on June 9.  On June 10 and June 11 they watched the Major League Baseball teams of the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers play each other at Chicago’s US Cellular Field.  June 12 was the official start date of their tour with a game in Chicago as they partake in a seven game schedule against summer amateur baseball teams.  The remainder of the games will be played in the Mississippi River community known as the Quad Cities that is comprised of the four cities of Davenport, Iowa; Bettendorf, Iowa; Moline, Illinois and Rock Island, Illinois.  The team returns home on June 24.  The Lithuanians played hard, but took it on the chin 11-0 in their first game on June 12 versus the Chicago Wildcats of the Chicago Suburban Baseball League, a league that is considered by many to be one the best amateur baseball leagues in the USA.  Tony Huntley of the Wildcats commented on the ‘tremendous upside’ of some of the younger players and also mentioned that the players did not give in even with the tall score.  As it is said in baseball “There is always tomorrow.”

For complete schedule and USA tour photos see:

The purpose of the tour is to help develop the younger players, for the team to learn more about the game of baseball, and also to improve the team’s play after a disappointing 3rd place finish in 2008 league play.  Third place is not an option in 2009.  The goal for Kaunas Lituanica is to return to Lithuania to win the national championship by winning the Lithuanian Baseball League title in 2009.  This USA tour was organized by Americans’ Will Gordon and Christian Jackson.  Jackson played for Kaunas Lituanica for two years in the mid 2000’s, while Gordon is the Director of Foreign Affairs and Game Development for the Lithuanian Baseball Association, Lithuania’s official governing body for the sport of baseball.  Jackson resides nearby to the Quad Cities in Geneseo, Illinois, and Gordon is a native of the state of North Carolina.

(Official website of the Lithuanian Baseball Association)

Young player development is key to the future of Lithuanian baseball and in all of Europe to enable the sport to continue to prosper on the continent.  Two fine young players traveling on this USA tour in an effort to improve their game have already caught the eye of Major League Baseball scouts as they had impressive performances in the 2009 spring MLB European Tryouts.  With impressive performances, 17 year old pitcher and outfielder Edvardus Matusevicius and 16 year old pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas have been invited to Major League Baseball’s European Academy that will take place in August in the country of Italy.  For this special U.S. trip Matusevicius and Neverauskas are currently on loan to Kaunas Lituanica from their rival team of Vilnius Logipolija Baseball Club.  Cooperation is also key for the development for these players and baseball in Lithuania.  The MLB Scouting Bureau staff ran and operated eight try-out and workout selection sessions, and evaluated over two hundred fifty of Europe’s best young baseball players.  The pool of players that were observed and evaluated this spring is considered to be the deepest the scouts have seen in five years.  Matusevicius and Neverauskas will do their best in August in Italy to work on their game in hopes of garnering professional contracts, and if those offers do not come their way this summer they will look at playing High School or University baseball in the United States to further develop their game.

Overseeing all of these events is the keen eye of Edmuntas Matusevicius, the General Secretary of the Lithuanian Baseball Association.  Matusevicius is the father of 17 year old Edvardus, and offers a fine pedigree to his son.  The elder Matusevicius was recruited by USSR baseball officials in the late days of the Soviet Union from his first sport of track and field, where he was a javelin thrower.  Baseball was started from absolute scratch in the USSR in 1986 immediately following the 1986 decision of the International Olympic Committee to add baseball as a medal sport to the Olympic programmed.  The Soviets then set their eyes on not just qualifying, but winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.  This was not a farfetched fanatical dream, but a well conceived plan by the USSR Olympic Committee as the Soviets had already achieved the same world status in hockey and also in basketball in only ten short years after their respective sport’s inceptions.   Matusevicius was part of this plan by the Soviets.  At one time in his javelin career Matusevicius was a top thrower in the USSR.  As the years went by the USSR officials took note of his arm strength and superior athletic ability.  They then took the logical approach of introducing him to the game of baseball and to the art of pitching because of his great arm strength.  Matusevicius and the then Soviet Republic of Lithuania were not alone.  This ten year plan started simultaneously with younger player development in all of the USSR, but with the priority to find the best pure adult athletes with new found baseball skills from all around the largest country in the world.  Immediately by 1989 a top nationwide league of some 30 teams had been formed, and in 1990 the Soviets shocked Europe with a first place finish in the European Championships (Group B).  This strong willed team was comprised of talented players from the far reaches of Russia and many of the former republics of the USSR.  This first place finish qualified the Soviet Union’s National Baseball Team for the top level in Europe (Group A) in 1991.  The Olympic plan was in action……….and then the Soviet Union fell apart ……. and divided into as many new countries as there were old republics……..and baseball started all over again.  Matusevicius is revered in his homeland for the stand he personally took against the Soviet crackdown in the late 1980’s.  Also as a proud Lithuanian, Matusevicius relished this new found independence for his homeland so much so that in the final days of the Soviet Union he is famous for not wearing the team’s CCCP cap, but rather opting to wear the only other cap that he owned, an Oakland Athletics baseball cap.

A common quote in Moscow has been “The worst thing that happened to baseball in the Soviet Union is that the Soviet Union fell apart”.  Now in Lithuania, Russia, and across the globe in baseball developing countries the new quote is “The worst thing that happened to baseball is that it was voted out of the Olympics”.

The Lithuanians embark on this baseball development trip to the USA hoping that baseball will be voted back into the Olympic program in 2009, simply so that their sport will survive.  Funds are already sparse for baseball; or as they call their favorite sport ‘Beisbolas’, in this once again new and proud country.  The wide spread fear in many of these new baseball countries is that if baseball is not voted back into the Olympic Games in 2009 then this decision will serve as a death sentence to the funding of programs and then the programs themselves.  This is the actual sentiment of many countries that rely on the simple recognition of baseball as a part of the Olympic program just so that they are able to maintain and sustain their sport in their home countries.

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