Federation Focus: Lithuania has one of three Europeans playing at MLB level

Federation Focus: Lithuania has one of three Europeans playing at MLB level
The game of baseball was introduced to the country in 1922, but the Lithuania Baseball Association was founded only in 1987. Federation President Virmidas Neverauskas, the father of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dovydas, guided us through baseball in the Baltic area.

Virmidas Neverauskas, 56 years old is the president of the Lithuania Baseball Association (Lietuvos Beisbolo Asociacija). He is also a proud father. His son Dovydas, born in January 1993, became in 2017 the first Lithuanian to appear in a Major League Baseball (MLB) game when he made his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dovydas Neverauskas went on to pitch in 23 more games for the Pirates in 2018. His MLB-game total grew to 61 over three seasons, including two appearances (2 1/3 innings pitched) in 2020.

"Dovydas has been playing for over 20 years now," Virmidas Neverauskas told WBSC via e-mail. "Our family has been involved in sports forever. Dovydas' mother played basketball and my daughter also plays baseball and softball."

Do you think his success will change the course of baseball in your country?

"It will help, most definitely. But in order to change our course, we must make a big input by ourselves, by doing our work, building good quality fields, and developing baseball in different ways."

The top baseball league is the Lietuvos Beisbolo Lyga, LBL. Lithuania has also different leagues at the youth level.

"We have competition for the age groups U-23, U-15 and U-12. In the winter we also have U-10 tee-ball and coach pitch tournaments. We also have Baseball5, amateur teams and the Baltic Interleague. We try to compete in as many championships and create as many training camps as possible for young players. We’re also doing baseball projects, bringing baseball to different Lithuanian cities for a possible baseball growth. Doing different training camps not only for players but also for coaches, umpires and scorekeepers."

Lithuania hosted the WBSC Europe Congress earlier this year in the capital city Vilnius as well as the first ever Baseball5 European championship and qualified, together with France, for the first-ever Baseball5 World Cup.

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The National Baseball Team activity has been affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We had a training camp all set up for us in Japan, with all the games and training planned, to prepare for the B group European Championship. For now, we’re continuing our Lithuanian championship as well and the Baltic Interleague and we’re following updates on the pandemic and upcoming championships."

Baseball was brought to Lithuania in 1922 by Steponas Darius, who emigrated to America in 1907 and died in an aeroplane crash while trying to complete the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean with Stasys Girenas aboard the plane Lituanica in 1933.

"Steponas Darius brought basketball and baseball into the country. Unfortunately, baseball didn’t get any attention, as basketball did."

After 1940, Lithuania became part of the Soviet Union.

"There were no more opportunities to develop baseball in Lithuania. Things changed in 1986 when the Soviet Union decided to bring back baseball and started to develop it because baseball had become an Olympic sport."

Virmidas Neverauskas came across baseball back then.

"I was studying physical education and came across an invitation to baseball practice. I attended the first practice ever. They didn’t have any equipment or any idea about how to play baseball. Something clicked inside me and I've been involved in the game since then."

The Lithuania Baseball Association was founded in 1987. The first youth team came after many years.

"It was the year 2000. Dovydas was seven years old and was one of the youngest on the team. I was an optimist from the beginning. I believed that someday someone from that team would achieve a professional level...I was fortunate enough that it happened to my son. I believed in both of us, and I was right."

Lithuania lost the playoff series against Israel to qualify for the European Championship 2019. Do you have regrets?

"No regrets. We did our best to prepare the field, which hadn’t been played on for years. It was our main focus at the time. Israel's team has a lot of USA players that have competed in MLB before. They are a really strong team and they showed it by winning the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball qualifier against the Netherlands and Italy. In sport, you have to accept that you cannot always win. Losing gives you character."

Lithuania is currently ranked 34th in the WBSC Baseball World Rankings.