Lithuanian heritage molded Draft prospect Valincius on and off the diamond (2024)

July 9th, 2024

Lithuanian heritage molded Draft prospect Valincius on and off the diamond (1)

Anthony Castrovince

@castrovince

Maybe there’s something extra special in his grandma’s cepelinai -- the heavy, meat-stuffed potato dumplings he loves so much -- that brought out the best in Tomas Valincius on the baseball field. Because in asserting himself as a left-handed prep pitcher of note on this year’s MLB Draft boards, Valincius has gone where few players of distinct Lithuanian heritage have gone before.

Though the 18-year-old Valincius, who is ranked No. 107 on MLB Pipeline’s Draft Prospects list, was born in Lockport, Ill., he has developed a very real baseball relationship with the Baltic region country from which both his parents originated.

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“Baseball is not super popular there like here, but now it's starting to grow,” Valincius said. “Just being around those people who also have passion for the game and love the game just as much as I do and have the drive and will to try to learn as much as they can really means a lot.”

Valincius first played for the Lithuanian national team when he was only 12 years old and was the team MVP at age 16. He has paid his talent forward not just by showing players on that team how American-born players approach the craft but also by helping to launch, at a young age, a foundation called Good Buddies that donated sports equipment to children in Lithuania.

“My mom had a Facebook account and ended up finding baseball communities and we would go through travel organizations and people would donate, which was awesome,” Valincius said. “We got tons of gear that we sent out. And then the best part was getting pictures back where you can just see how happy the kids were and all the smiles on their faces with all the new gear that they got. Even though it obviously wasn't the best, like, new stuff, seeing them happy about that really brought a joy to me.”

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Valincius has also volunteered as a youth baseball coach, all while maintaining a weighted 4.21 GPA at the renowned Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn.

So in addition to his prodigious pitching talents, which include a tight low-80s slider that plays off his fastball and consistently lands for strikes, Valincius has a conscientiousness and intelligence that should serve him well, whether he honors a commitment to the University of Virginia or pursues the professional path.

Of course, given that baseball is not exactly front of mind in Lithuania, there were a couple hilarious hiccups along the way.

The sport became a passion to Tomas (which he pronounces the same as “Thomas”) and his older brother Vytas through neighborhood Wiffle Ball games.

One time, Vytas hit a home run, and the neighbors began shouting to him, “Go home!” The youngster took this command literally, running back to the family home instead of home plate. His mother, Vaida, confusedly became upset with the neighbors, thinking they had just directed her son to go home.

Thankfully, that confusion was sorted out. But more confusion arose when Vaida bought Tomas a right-handed glove.

“I can’t throw [with my right hand],” Tomas explained to his Lithuanian-born mom.

“I don’t care, you’re going to do it,” she replied.

The neighbors eventually had to come to Tomas’ rescue and explain that, in baseball, there is actually such a thing as left-handed pitchers and, therefore, left-handed gloves.

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Now, Valincius is making waves with that left arm of his. He attracted a lot of interest as a two-way talent at Baylor School, but it’s his mound presence that most interested big league teams. In three years on Baylor’s varsity team, he compiled a 0.97 ERA and 139 strikeouts against 29 walks in 86 1/3 innings.

Though he would not join Dovydas Neverauskas, who pitched for the Pirates from 2017-2020, as the only Lithuanian-born players in MLB, perhaps Valincius can follow in four-time All-Star and four-time World Series winner (and 1955 World Series MVP) Johnny Podres’ prominent footsteps in representing the Lithuanian heritage well on baseball’s biggest stage.

For now, Valincius is focused on taking the next step while maintaining the work ethic and consistency that got him to this point.

“It mainly comes from my mom,” he said. “She really pushed us when we were younger and always has.”

And don’t forget the cepelinai.

Lithuanian heritage molded Draft prospect Valincius on and off the diamond (2024)

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