At a time of a national crisis in Ukraine, where all sides are uniting, it was shocking to read Basil Tarasko’s divisive letter to the editor (December 8) regarding the Mets Citi Field Ukrainian Heritage Night event.
To address your letter, let’s first state that UCCA nationally and its local branches have worked for the good of the Ukrainian community in the U.S. on a regular basis for many, many years. Most of that work is done on a voluntary basis, and no one should have the audacity to scold an entire organization and its local branches over “an idea” that you had to send some base- balls to Ukraine.
In addition, there is no reason to name individuals in the organization and smear their names in the press. Although you state that “all remained silent” regarding getting the baseballs for you, the opposite is the actual truth. Many members of the national and local branches made calls and sent e-mails to the Mets organization on your behalf either for new balls or scuffed- up used balls. We did not receive a response from the Mets in a timely fashion based on your date requests.
In fact, we were very sympathetic to your goal of obtaining baseballs for Ukrainian orphan children, and we support your work with the orphans. We tried very hard to make it happen. The fact that it didn’t work out is not due to our negligence, or lack of concern or support for what you do. In addition, we were in the middle of coordinating all the aspects of the Ukrainian Heritage Night.
It is also not a great idea to scold the Mets organization that for two years in a row has welcomed us to their stadium with open arms and allowed the UCCA to pro- mote the Ukrainian heritage and culture. This type of letter does not bode well for relations with other non-Ukrainian corporations that may want to promote our heritage and that are just now starting to understand that Ukraine is a struggling democracy fighting for its religious, political and human rights.
Ukraine Little Leaguers Ignore Violence, Play Ball
By Zenon Zawada , June 2014
KYIV – Basil Tarasko, 67, has attended every championship of the Little League he helped launch in Ukraine but he wasn’t sure if he was going to attend this year.
Kyiv is recovering from this winter’s violence (baseball bats surfaced on the EuroMaidan, but he can’t confirm their origin) and the Donbas region is engulfed in war. Moreover, the Little Leaguers between 13 and 16 years old said they weren’t going to compete.
But not the 11-12 year olds, which is the key age group in Little League. With Kyiv having largely returned to its normal way of life, the kids wanted their chance to play there to compete for the honor of travelling to the Europe and Africa regional championships in Kutno, Poland. “If they wanted it bad enough, then I was going to be there with them,” said Mr. Tarasko, who helped organize and even kept score for the games, played between June 5 and 7 in Kyiv. They held particular significance because they marked the 15th championship of Little League Ukraine. Yet on the downside, only three of the eight teams from last year’s championship showed up this year. Two Donetsk teams didn’t show.
“If everything was stable in Ukraine, with a decent president and no conflicts, there would have been eight teams here,” he said.
Though baseball remains an obscure sport, not only in Ukraine but all of eastern Europe, Little League Ukraine has had its fair share of successes. Its 13-14 year olds traveled to Taylor Mich. twice, in 2007 and 2010, to compete in the World Series, representing the Europe and Africa region. In 2010, the 11-12 year olds almost made it to the World Series in Williamsport, but lost their final, decisive game to a team that was really composed of American kids from army bases. Most of the players of all three of these Ukrainian teams came from Kirovohrad, which is the powerhouse of baseball in Ukraine.
It was no different this year as the 11-12 year olds from Kirovohrad defeated their challengers from Rivne, 13-1, and Kyiv, 14-1, to make it to the finals on June 7, where they faced a rematch against Rivne, which also has among Ukraine’s strongest Little League programs.
“The Little League players in Kirivohrad and Rivne are now playing on adult teams,” Mr. Tarasko said. Meanwhile, the current youngsters could some day form a Ukrainian team to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Among the game’s highlights was a storm of cottony fuzz from nearby poplar trees that blew across the field in the first inning, making it appear that the game was indeed being played in the winter. “Is it snowing or what?,” Mr. Tarasko shouted as he kept score from his seat behind home plate. By the fourth inning, the Rivne boys were on their way to an upset with a 15-8 lead. Yet Kirovohrad would not go down with a fight, tying the game in the sixth, final inning after a bases loaded walk made the score 17-17, with no outs.
The next hitter’s line drive was bobbled by the third baseman, giving Kirovohrad its sixth trip to Kutno in the last seven years.
Serhii Lymarenko, the Kirovohrad head coach, said his 11-12 year olds have lost only twice in the last 15 years, one of those losses being against Rivne last year.
This year, “Rivne was leading from the first inning, at one point by seven runs,” he said. “We waited patiently, tried to get even and then finished them off. It was far from our most mature game. But even when the game doesn’t go our way, you need to slowly get your result, whatever the price.” The game was played at a soccer field on Kyiv’s Trukhaniv Park that will soon have the city’s only Little League infield. Kyiv’s last infield was taken over in 2006 by a construction company to use as storage for concrete slabs, said Dmytro Matsulevych. “That’s our lawlessness,” he said.
The lawlessness on the international level has cost Ukrainian Little League its teams in Crimea, who are already playing for Russia’s Little League. Meanwhile, the annual orphan championship held in Kremenets, Ternopil Oblast in September is under question since the best teams come from the Donetsk oblast.
Financing remains an issue, as it had always been. Mr. Tarasko recalled giving 20 new baseballs to the coach of the Kirovohrad team playing in Taylor, Mich., to help them look and feel up to par. Yet he found out from an umpire during the tournament they were still practicing with their torn-up balls. The coach had tucked away the new balls to bring them back to Kirovohrad, where supplies were scarce.
To raise funds, Mr. Tarasko suggested the Ukrainians take the example of the Americans. “I said go the local meat market where your parents go and ask them for money to buy some caps,” he said. “They think people throw money at you in the U.S. I said, ‘No, you gotta’ knock on doors’.” Fortunately, the trip to Kutno is paid by Little League and the Kirovohrad boys will be playing during July 14-21.
“Baseball isn’t only about the physical,” said Viacheslav Babii, the 12-year-old captain of the Kirovohrad team. “You need to think and play out all the outs. It’s very complicated and requires years of studying.”