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16

Jun, 2022

Virmidas Neverauskas Visits PONY Headquarters

The journey for Virmidas Neverauskas from Vilnius, Lithuania to PONY Headquarters in Washington, PA didn’t just begin with a bid for his Lithuanian team in the upcoming Palomino World Series. It began long ago when he discovered the sport of baseball in the most unconventional way possible, a bulletin board.

In a country where every adult male either goes to college or joins the military, Neverauskas decided to attend a highly regarded physical education university in Kaunas, Lithuania. However, after finishing his first year at the university, he was taken to the Soviet Army. He spent about two years in Lipetsk, Russia serving before returning to school to complete his degree.

In February of 1987 after returning to school, he saw a paper on a bulletin board that sparked his interest. The paper detailed an open baseball practice. He quickly became confused about this foreign term of “baseball”. The confusion was justified as the Soviet-controlled Lithuania was unacquainted with the western world’s sport of baseball because, at that time, baseball was viewed by the Soviets as a capitalist sport.

“Soviets say baseball is for capitalismos, not socialismos. I had never heard of baseball,” said Neverauskas.

Because he didn’t know a single thing, he sought out ways to discover more information. His university’s library had books detailing the rules of America’s pastime, but unfortunately for him, the rule books made no sense since they were just simply translated from English.

“I go to the library, I find the rules, and I understood nothing. This guy [the author of the book] does not know baseball, he just knows English.”

Even with a shaky understanding of the rules, he still decided that baseball was worth a try. When asked for his reasoning to attend the practice, Neverauskas said that he wanted to play a team sport and hoped giving baseball a try would be worthwhile. At the practice, nobody really knew how to play baseball, but they were all good athletes.

“Everybody comes from (the) physical education university. We learned very quickly. We can throw, we can run, we can hit.”

Everything seemed to be going well except for the fact that not a single person at the practice had any sort of proper baseball equipment.

“We used (a) syringe and filled (a) tennis ball with water for good weight. We used wood bat(s). We didn’t have gloves. We played with our hands. We maybe had two gloves, like ice hockey gloves for a goalkeeper. They were really big and it was not easy to catch with those gloves. We [the catchers] didn’t have mask(s).”

While I was practically unable to comprehend playing baseball without gloves or any protective gear, Neverauskas laughed at the experience and poked fun at some of the events that occured.

“One time, foul ball, boom, hits a person and he had to go to [the] hospital. Because of that, one coach brought ice hockey equipment and same thing, boom, another guy goes down.”

Later that year in May of 1987, the Soviet baseball players heard rumors of Cubans studying in St. Petersburg who were looking to sell their old baseball gloves. It wasn’t unfamiliar for Cubans to be in Soviet Territory as history shows us that Cuba and the Soviet Union had a great relationship during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Neverauskas detailed that every year before the Cuban students went home for the summer, they tried to sell their old gloves in preparation to receive a new glove. He jumped at this opportunity, buying ten old gloves from them.

“We started in February and in May, we finally have gloves. (Because of this) in (the) summertime we went to (our) first tournament in Kiev.”

He was a member of the original Soviet Union team that was put together after baseball became an Olympic sport, but his time as a Soviet didn’t last very long. Major change was rushing through the Soviet Union and surrounding regions in 1990 with Lithuania gaining their independence from Soviet control in that year. This marked the start of a new age for the citizens of the region as they were the first former republic of the Soviet Union to remove “Soviet” from their name, asserting their independence.

Even amidst a tense political culture with his country breaking away from the almighty Soviet Union, Virmidas Neverauskas found love for a sport that seemed to transcend far beyond all else in life.

Baseball seemed to come naturally to all of the players in Neverauskas’ league, but it came even more naturally to none other than Virmidas himself. In fact, even approaching the age of 58, he proved he’s still got it. After asking him when he retired from his playing career, he gave a confused look, almost like he didn’t understand the question.

“I still play.” 

I was completely befuddled from this statement, sort of not believing him, and I think he sensed this because he laughed and pulled up a website on his computer. The page he showed me not only proved that he still plays, it showed that he’s playing at a high level. The website displayed his statline from a recent WBSC-Europe [World Baseball and Softball Confederation] baseball club cup qualifier. The first baseman went 4 for 4 with three RBI and two stolen bases. Not only did he get it done with his bat and on the basepath, he also closed the game out on the mound for Lithuania’s team, Beisbolo Klubas Vilnius, allowing no hits in a rout of Finland’s Tampere Tigers, 18-3.

With as much talent and success Virmidas Neverauskas has had, it might seem as if he hogged all of it from his family. That thought, however, couldn’t be more false. Outside of baseball and softball, his wife played basketball and his niece played professional field hockey for the Lithuanian National team. 

Baseball, however, remained to be the most popular sport within the family. While Virmidas was teaching others in Lithuania about the game he loves so dearly, his son, Dovydas, was watching closer than anyone.

Dovydas Neverauskas was born with a special ability to fire a baseball. He showcased this ability at many events across Europe, including several PONY run events. At 16 years old, he drew the attention of major league scouts. Tom Randolph, an international scout for the Pirates at the time, took special notice.

“I recall very clearly following Dovydas closely in the Spring of 2009, the year he would become eligible to sign a contract…His stuff on the mound was incredible,” said Randolph.

But Randolph also noted that his first love wasn’t pitching.

“Did you know he was a catcher before a pitcher? I think he liked catching more than pitching honestly. I sometimes wondered if that natural instinct to be on the field and to hit may have been a small drag on his growth on the mound.”

Dovydas’ instinct to be on the field was a learned behavior that came from none other than his father.

“His dad was a big power hitter too when he played for the original Soviet Union team they put together after baseball became an Olympic sport,” detailed Randolph.

After drawing major interest from several teams including the Minnesota Twins, who he almost signed with, Tom Randolph convinced Virmidas and Dovydas Neverauskas to go with the Steel City. 

“In the end it came down to a trip I [Tom Randolph] took to Vilnius right at July 2nd…Dovydas and Virmidas agreed to sign with me and the Pirates last minute that weekend, and that’s what began his journey to the major leagues.”

Dovydas Neverauskas was officially signed as an international free agent on July 11, 2009. He pitched in the Gulf Coast League, a rookie level league for the MLB, for the first time in 2010 at 17 years old.

He spent eight years in the Pirates minor league system, slowly making his way up the ranks. The once 16 year old had developed and matured in the Pirates system, becoming a reliever that had much upside and promise for the organization. 

On April 24, 2017, Dovydas Neverauskas was the first Lithuanian-born baseball player to debut in Major League Baseball history. He allowed one run on two hits in his two innings of work, forcing a ground ball double play on MLB Super-star, Anthony Rizzo, and striking out Justin Grimm.

Dovydas spent his four seasons in the majors bouncing between the Pirates minor league teams and The Show, however, his presence on the field on April 24th alone will forever go down in the Lithuanian history books. He is still playing professionally and is currently with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japan Western League.

While Dovydas paved the road for Lithuanian born baseball players and is extremely important to the country, it would be in my own personal fault if I didn’t mention Virmidas’ daughter, Nomeda, as another trailblazer who paved the way for Lithuanian-born athletes.

Nomeda is a dual-sport athlete, competing in both softball and baseball. Most girls start with baseball and eventually make the transition to softball, however, Nomeda decided she didn’t have to give up one to obtain the other.

“She can play with the men,” said her proud father.

He detailed that softball is not a large sport in Lithuania, so there were very few opportunities for Nomeda to play. She would play softball on certain days and baseball on others with some overlap. Playing both of these sports allowed her to constantly showcase her ability and stay involved with sports.

Assisted by Pony President Abe Key, Nomeda Neverauskas got her opportunity to play in America when she attended a California University of Pennsylvania Fall practice. While there, she and her family impressed NFCA Hall-of-Fame coach, Rick Bertagnolli.

“Nomeda was a talented player. She came from a talented family who knows the game very well,” said Coach Bertagnolli.

While Cal U was on Nomeda’s radar, she ultimately decided to stay in Europe and attend college in Italy. She is 24 now and is still involved with the sport today as she is a member of the Lithuanian national softball team. 

The youngest Neverauskas, Vilta, is only 8 years old. She might not understand the impact her family has had on Lithuania yet, but she will soon learn to carry on the family tradition of excellence in sports, following in her older siblings’ footsteps.

Virmidas Neverauskas currently lives in Vilnius with his wife Vitalija and his three kids. He is still very active in his career as he serves on the WBSC-Europe board as a member at large and is the President of the Lithuanian Baseball Association.

When asked what makes baseball so great, he got emotional.

“Baseball is my life. I love this game and I don’t know where I would be without baseball.”

Virmidas Neverauskas will be traveling back to the United States July 29th through August 1st to watch his team compete in the 2022 Palomino World Series in Laredo, Texas. This is the first time Lithuania has qualified for Europe. They kick off action July 29th at 9:00am.
 

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