His early path to baseball was the same as most professionals. He picked it up at a young age.
The difference for Dovydas Neverauskas is that he did it in his native Lithuania, where baseball is way down the pecking order in popularity among his countrymen.
Neverauskas, a right-handed relief pitcher, found America’s pastime through his father, Virmidas, when he was 6 years old.
Neverauskas played other sports like Lithuania’s most popular: basketball.
But baseball was his calling, and it didn’t take long for Neverauskas to develop into a professional prospect.
Near the time the Pittsburgh Pirates tapped into a new market with Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel – two India natives that the movie, “Million Dollar Arm,” is centered on – beginning their pro journey in the Gulf Coast League, Neverauskas jumped on the Buccos’ radar, too.
At 16 years old, Neverauskas signed with Pittsburgh.
It’s led to this moment, where he has the potential to become Lithuania’s first MLB player. On Wednesday, Neverauskas threw his first bullpen session at Pirate City.
“He throws really hard. He has good command in his fastball. … He’s got a lot of talent,” Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz said.
Upon arriving in America, Neverauskas had a language barrier. Through watching movies and listening to conversations around him, Neverauskas picked up English over time.
He also had to battle the fact that he was a teenager far removed from family and friends.
“It was hard, really hard,” Neverauskas said. “Because I was 16, 17 and away from family for the first time that long. I got used to it (about) three, four years later.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle first ran into Neverauskas when instructional leagues were going on in the winter of 2011.
His transformation since then was two-fold.
His on-field skills are improved, and there isn’t a language barrier away from the field anymore.
He’s zipped through the Pirates’ farm system at a decent clip. From the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2016, Neverauskas jumped from short season Single-A to Triple-A.
That skyrocketed track through Pittsburgh’s farm system coincided with a transition from starting pitcher to relief duty.
“The beginning was weird and needed to get used to,” Neverauskas said. “… But started feeling better, started getting better, started feeling more confident and I felt like it was actually better for me.”
Hurdle said all the analytics they’ve pulled, such as spin rates, velocity and movement, helped his performance. Hurdle also said Neverauskas is getting outs with swing-and-miss stuff as well as the ability to induce weak contact.
Meanwhile, Neverauskas became a World team member at the annual MLB All-Star Futures Game highlighting his potential spot in Pittsburgh’s bullpen someday.
But he still has things to learn, and Hurdle said he asks good questions.
“He’s going to be fun to watch,” Hurdle said.
Back in Lithuania, Neverauskas’ mid-90s fastball couldn’t be touched. Major League hitters are a bit different.
So he’s developed a cutter and also spins a curve ball to keep opposing hitters at bay. A brief stint in Bradenton, where he posted a 1.62 earned run average in 12 appearances, came during his fast-tracked jaunt through the farm system.
If he keeps progressing, then Neverauskas will become Lithuania’s first MLB player. Joe Zapustas tallied five at-bats in 1933 for the then-Philadelphia A’s, but he was only born in Lithuania and grew up in Boston.
Becoming his country’s first MLB player is a burden, but one Neverauskas is equipped to handle.
“It’s a little bit (of pressure),” Neverauskas said. “But not for myself, but for baseball back home to make it more popular.”