Lithuanian baseball team visits Central illinois

A true world series

By Marc Strauss

July 15, 2010 Updated Jul 19, 2007 at 10:46 PM CDT

Democracy spread to Lithuania almost 20 years ago. With it came the return of baseball.

"When Lithuania was occupied by the USSR baseball was considered a capitalistic sport and was prohibited," said Valentinas Bubulis, who played on one of his country's first adult league teams.

Nathan Leuthold, who assists Bubulis in coaching a group of teenagers, says there was baseball played in Lithuania in the early part of the 20th century.

"It was there prior to communism, but under Soviet law it was outlawed because it was an American sport."

Leuthold and a team from the Lithuanian city of Utena is visiting Central Illinois this week. They love the game so much they've traveled 5,000 miles to play it, with a series of games scheduled against local teams.

Leuthold, a missionary who grew up here in Central Illinois, has watched the sport's rebirth in the former soviet block country.

"It's really grown the last couple of years. In our city we have the only official ball field in all of the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The closest official ball field used to be 700 or 800 miles from where we live. To have that facility that's really increased their passion for the game and gives them a place to practice that's not just a cow pasture."

Lithuania is best known for its accomplishments in basketball. But in 1997, a team from Utena – the same city these boys are from – participated in the Little League World Series. Ten years later Lithuanian kids watch Major League Baseball on the internet. They even have favorite teams.

"(I like) the Cardinals," said 14 year-old Domantas Naudziunas. I like their first baseman, (Albert) Pujols.

15 year-old Justas Sadunikas has also become a fan of the Redbirds.

"I know the Cardinals team and Pujols."

But if you ask him about the Cubs and he says, "I don't know the Cubs.".

But thanks to men like Nathan Leuthold they know the game.

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