Monday, April 28, 2014

Lithuania: the National Religion

Over the weekend Jane and I had lunch at a kavinė in the city center, where we have sometimes attracted a bit of attention as native English speakers.  This is how we have met some U.S. servicemen attached to the local NATO base.  It’s also how we have met some Lithuanians keen on exercising their English language skills.

This time it was a young couple seated at a nearby table who expressed curiosity about us.  “Where are you from?” the young man asked.  “Vashingtonas,” I answered with a smile, while Jane played it straight:  “Washington, D.C.,” she said.  “Ah,” said the young man, “I went to high school in Roanoke, Virginia.”

I ask you, dear readers, what are the odds of that?  Gradually, the young man—he looked to be in his late twenties—shared a few of the details.  It turns out that he had spent a “thirteenth” year at Roanoke Catholic High School after graduating from a Lithuanian secondary school, that his motives lay in pursuit of the Lithuanian national religion (basketball), and that his year in Roanoke changed his life (though we were too gob-smacked to ask him to elaborate).  He said that he now is now coaching with the Šiauliai professional team, which competes in the Baltic Leagues, and which has hired a handful of American players, alumni of top NCAA programs, such as Duke, Maryland, Georgia, James Madison, and Fairfield University.  The team’s policy, he said, is to help foreign players put down local roots by finding them flats in the city center.  Hey, it’s worked for us.

I figured that a man so young might be an assistant coach, but when I checked out the team’s website today, I discovered that we had been talking to Gediminas Petrauskas, head coach of the Šiauliai team, which currently is competing in the Baltic League playoffs.  “We have a game next Wednesday evening,” he said.  “You should come.”  And so we shall. 

We’re looking forward to it.  It won’t be exactly the same as rooting for Nene, Bradley Beal, John Wall, Marcin Gortat, and the other guys who play at Verizon Center—who are competing in the NBA playoffs for the first time in many years.  But it will give us a chance to demonstrate our support for a local boy who made good—by way of Roanoke, Virginia.  And that’s kind of cool.


  1. While I don't know the statistics, I have the impression that Lithuania turns out some great basketball players, and teams. I seem to recall some good Olympic showings. If you get a chance, ask Coach Petrauskas why basketball is such a big-time game in his country.

  2. His answer would be that it's the "national religion," though he's quick to point out that his team often plays in an empty arena because it's so expensive to buy tickets, food, souvenirs, etc. Too expensive for most ordinary folks.

  3. That sounds like major league professional sports in the US on the pricing side. But here many people show up nevertheless. Does this suggest a broader middle class in the States than in Lithuania?

  4. In a word, yes, absolutely. We have front-row seats for Wednesday's playoff game. Price, about $10 per ticket. I'll try to take a photo of the arena to give you some sense of the attendance. I love watching baseball on TV, and in the States I wonder why so many people feel they have to be at the ballpark. I suppose that's what the concept of "disposable income" is all about.