Northwood’s Fines makes the long journey back to the mound ­- in Russia

Posted 6/28/19

MOSCOW — The game of baseball has led Woods Fines around the world — literally.

Fines, a Pittsboro native and former Northwood star, just returned home to Charlotte last week after competing …

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Northwood’s Fines makes the long journey back to the mound ­- in Russia

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Posted

MOSCOW — The game of baseball has led Woods Fines around the world — literally.

Fines, a Pittsboro native and former Northwood star, just returned home to Charlotte last week after competing for team Kaunas County, Lithuania, in the Confederation of European Baseball’s 2019 Federations Cup Qualifier in Moscow, Russia.

Needless to say Fines, now 33, described the trip as an incredible experience.

“The entire trip was an incredible experience, from playing the game of baseball that I love so much and that’s been such a big part of my life, to meeting and spending time with new teammates from other parts of the world. It was just an awesome opportunity and I’m so glad I finally took advantage of it,” Fines said from Charlotte on Monday.

Fines said Moscow itself was worth the trip.

“Moscow is such a beautiful city, so clean, so deep in history. From the art and architecture to visiting Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, to the food and atmosphere, we couldn’t have asked for a better host city for the tournament.”

Fines, who was a star Little League player for East Chatham before being a standout on the mound at Northwood, and then a year at Louisburg College, spent five seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ organization. But injuries sidetracked a promising career and ended his childhood dream of making it to the big leagues.

“I was drafted in 2005 and played with the Devil Rays organization until 2010 when I voluntarily retired,” recalled Fines. “It was a tough decision, but three consecutive elbow surgeries really took a lot out of me physically.”

But Fines could not walk away just yet from his dream and decided to give it one more shot.

“I worked hard at it and chose to come back in 2012, signing to play in the Independent League in Abilene, Texas,” he said. “I would show spurts of my old self on the mound, but I couldn’t do consistently what I wanted to, and decided that if my arm wasn’t going to give me a shot at the big leagues, then I didn’t want all the long bus rides again.”

Fines returned home to Pittsboro, then moved to Charlotte to go to school and work, and quickly joined a local men’s baseball league.

“The great thing about the men’s league was that there is no stress and it gave me an opportunity to just have fun again like I did growing up in Little League,” he said. “So for me it was a good fit at the time.”

Ironically, the opportunity to play for Team Kaunas County out of Lithuania came from a connection Fines made back in his professional days.

Fines used to train with William Gordon at Duke. Gordon later played with Lithuania after college, married a woman from there, and is now a player/coach for the organization.

“He’s a great guy and he’s been trying to get me to come play for years now,” said Fines. “But due to school and work, I never good get enough vacation time to make it work out. But now that I had accrued enough vacation time to make it was possible, I decided what the heck, I love to travel, I love baseball, so why not.”

And it was a good deal for Fines: he just had to pay for the plane ticket to Moscow.

“They paid for my VISA, my hotel, food, and I got to play the game of baseball that I love,” he said. “It wasn’t where I expected the game to take me at this point of my life, but it was an adventure and turned into a great, eye opening experience.”

One of those experiences was realizing just how much the game means to so many from different countries despite lacking all the advantages that American players have.

“Our players were literally from the ages of 16 to 38, and a lot of our guys basically came out with Walmart gloves and bats, soccer cleats in some cases, just whatever they could get,” Fines said. “Lithuania is very poor and less populous than North Carolina, and it makes you realize how fortunate we have it here in America. But they are top-5 year in and year out in basketball, so the talent is there in sports; it just will take time to build a solid baseball program.”

In the tournament, Fines and Kaunas County finished up 1-4 in the six-team event, which was won by tournament host Russtar Moscow with a 5-0 record. The Sofia Blues of Bulgaria came in second with a 4-1 mark while Apollo Bratislava of Slovakia was third with a 3-2 mark. The London Mets and KS Silesia Rybnik of Poland also closed with 1-4 records.

“The Moscow team was loaded, no one could compete with them,” added Fines. “They have three Cuban players there on permanent VISA’s who are ex-pro players. And the facilities there were incredible, including where they are building a big dome beside the stadium with an indoor field, cages, mounds. Baseball in Russian should really take off in the next 15 years.”

As far as his team went, Fines met a lot of new friends.

“My teammates were awesome, we had so much fun even though about 25 percent of them spoke good English,” laughed Fines. “And we hung out with players from other teams as well, including the London Mets who also have a guy from up in the mountains of North Carolina. He went to UNC and does IT work in London now. It’s a small world for sure.”

The games were played at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily. Depending on that determined what Fines and his teammates did that day.

“We took in a lot of the sites, ate at some cool places, just enjoyed Moscow in our off time,” he said.

On the field Fines showed he still had some gas left in the tank as the hard-throwing right-hander captured the lone win on the mound for Kaunas County in a 6-3 triumph in second day action over the London Mets. Fines went all nine innings and allowed just four hits, seven walks and three earned runs while striking out 10.

“I felt good out there against London but the mound gave me some trouble,” Fines said. “It was turf and I was worried about tearing my front knee on the landing. I think if I had turf shoes on it may have been better. But I’ve never played on turf like that and it was a bit ackward.”

Fines also had a pair of hits in the win, going 2-for-4 with a single to centerfield in the fourth and an infield hit in the sixth.

“I enjoyed swinging the bat, but I’ve still never hit a home run,” Fines laughed in jest. “It was 290 feet down the left field line and a short park, so I was hoping to get ahold of one.”

There’s always next year, and Fines hopes to be back competing with Kaunas County.

“I’m definitely planning on doing it again, it was a great experience and I’m hoping its held back in Moscow or in Prague in the Czech Republic, a city that I love.”

Fines plans on raising money and taking donations for the Kaunas County organization.

“I want to help the program grow and there are a lot of people here in our country that came help provide players that are less fortunate with better resources and equipment,” he said.

The Chatham News + Record will share the opportunity of helping Team Kaunas County when Fines has nailed down the final details for donations.

To see tournament action, including Fines pitching in the event, and more stats and scores please follow the links at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rY1-_rjirc and http://www.baseballeurope.com/post/federations_cup_and_federations_cup_qualifiers_sta.

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