Lithuania

From BR Bullpen

Lithuania is a country in eastern Europe not noted for its baseball presence. It has however produced one major leaguer in Dovydas Neverauskas, in spite of never having played in the European Championship.

Brief history of Lithuanian baseball[edit]

Stepanos Darius, on the left, in his pilot's uniform. The 1997 10 Litas note from Lithuania

Baseball was first introduced to Lithuania in 1922 by Steponas Darius, a Lithuanian who grew up in Chicago, IL. Darius emigrated to the US in 1909 with his family. After fighting in World War I with the American Army, he returned to Chicago, but moved to Lithuania in 1920 (the country had gained it independence from Russia following the war). Having grown up in America, he discovered a love for several sports, including baseball and basketball. He organized a Lithuanian baseball league in 1922, and the first pitch in the Championship series was thrown by the American ambassador. Darius also translated the complete "Rules of Baseball" from English to Lithuanian.

Unfortunately, Darius died in an airplane crash in 1933, trying to fly from New York to Kaunas. While basketball took off in Lithuania, the locals were not as excited about baseball. After Darius's death, the sport of baseball was put on hold for several decades, owing to the Great Depression and the Second World War. During its time as a Soviet republic, "baseball was the 'American' pastime, and a sport certainly not in initial favor with the Soviet rulers" and thus was not played in the country.[1].

It was not until the 1980s when baseball was incorporated into the Olympics that the sport returned to Lithuania. The Soviets wanted to develop their athletes into competitive baseball players, and the team included a few Lithuanians. Edmundas Matusevičius was a Lithuanian who pitched for the Soviet National team during the 1980s.

In 1986, the first baseball seminar of the Soviet era was conducted in Lithuania. The team was headed by a former ice hockey player and another instructor from the Kaunas Physical Culture Institute. The pair tried to recruit young players to the Institute. They did not have real baseball equipment, and were forced to use ice hockey gloves, field hockey balls and an old baseball glove that was donated by a Cuban student at the Institute. The first USSR tournament was held in 1987, and the Institute fielded a joint Lithuanian/Latvian team, as there were not enough players from either country to make up a team.

Several teams were formed after the tournament, as interest in the sport grew. The Lithuanian cup was organized in 1987, and the Lithuanian Baseball Federation was established that same year.

By the end of the 1980s there were several teams in the country. The first chance to play against an American team came in 1988 when a team of 14- to 15-year-olds from Illinois was given permission to play in the country.

With the country's return to independence in 1991, the sport grew further. National teams were sent to play in various tournaments in Europe and in the US. A baseball course was included at the Kaunas sports institute, and the Official Rules were again translated into Lithuanian.

Today, the sport is played by young and old. A Lithuanian team was sent to compete in the Little League World Series in 1999, and today there are 23 teams located throughout Lithuania. Unfortunately, the games are often played in less than ideal conditions. Not having access to proper equipment or to a "baseball field", hand-me-down equipment is often donated from America, and the games are played in abandoned soccer fields or on simple grass fields. Indeed, the sport is growing in popularity among the younger generation. The Lithuanians fielded a team at the 2008 World University Baseball Championship but finished the tournament 0-7. Mr. Matusevičius's son was a pitcher in that tournament (see the articles for Edmundas Matusevičius and Edvardas Matusevičius for details).

In 2009, Dovydas Neverauskas became the first Lithuanian to sign with a MLB club. He made it to the show eight years later, in 2017.

source: http://www.beisbolas.lt/naujiena.php?mid=0&id=1&lang=1, taken from the Lithuanian Baseball Federation website