War, brotherhood and baseball

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The Mehmedi family finds solace in Naugatuck

When Arber Mehmedi of Naugatuck was 5 he fled the former Yugoslavia with his family when the divided country slipped into war. Now, the Greyhounds’ catcher will graduate on Monday and attend Post University in the fall. FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — The dissolution of Yugoslavia was brought on by a series of conflicts and political upheavals. The country was divided into six independent republics and internal wars flared up over boundary disputes.

 

Serbia was made up of two autonomous provinces Kosovo and Vojvodina. In 1996, the Yugoslavian Army waged war with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Over 13,000 citizens were killed during the three-year conflict, which left over 850,000 Albanians refugees of war.

Arber Mehmedi, the senior catcher for the Naugatuck High School baseball team, has vivid memories of, machine gun fire that sounded like it was right in the back yard, bombings that shook his neighborhood to the core, and war planes flying overhead.

Arber was only 5years old in 1999 when his father Flamur and his mother Lirije woke him and his little brother Drin from a sound sleep, and told them they had to leave immediately.

The family fled their home in the middle of the night with barely the clothes on their back to escape with their lives.

“I remember lying on a bed, hiding in my uncle’s garage after we escaped and hearing the gun shots outside and the bombs going off,” Arber recalled. “I held onto my little brother and we were crying as the planes flew overhead. It was very scary, and I try not to think about that anymore.”

That horrific night, the Mehmedi family began an odyssey that took them through a war torn country to the Untied States and eventually Naugatuck.

“I’m just happy to be in America and playing baseball. Now I’m going to go to Post University and play baseball, and I’m so thankful to have this opportunity,” Arber said.

When the Mehmedi family arrived in the Untied States, they couldn’t speak a word of English. They spent three months in Bridgeport before moving to Naugatuck. Flamur and Lirije went to work, as Arber and his brother Drin began learning the language at school.

Two years after arriving in the Untied States Arbnor was born and the family began to feel at home in their new country.

The Mehmedi brothers, from left, Drin, Arbnor and Arber at their home in Naugatuck. The three brothers have made themselves more than comfortable in Naugatuck’s baseball scene. KEN MORSE

“Once we were in very big trouble in our life,” Flamur said. “Maybe never see each other again. But God helped us to get to this country. May God bless this country. They gave us a new life.”

 

Flamur played, coached and was a referee in a professional soccer league in the old country. When he came to the Untied States he envisioned his boys taking up the game as well.

However, the boys had a different idea.

When Arber was 10 years old he asked his father if he could sign up to play baseball with his friends.

“I have been around soccer all my life,” Flamur said. “Now my son comes to me to play this game where they hit a ball with a stick. What is this kind of game, I ask myself. But, Arber made a good choice. After one year the whole family loves baseball. Even mom (Lirije), she gets mad if she has to miss a game. We try to go to all the games but now all three are playing and it’s tough.”

Drin is a pitcher on the Naugatuck junior varsity team, and last year in Babe Ruth he had 31 strikeouts in two games.

The youngest is Arbnor and he plays for the Union City Little League Braves as a third baseman and a pitcher.

Arber helped to pave the way for his younger brothers.

“I feel I’m a big inspiration to my brothers,” Arber said. “They look up to me so I have to set a good example. My little brother Arbnor does everything that I do. It’s a lot of hard work to keep up your grades and to play a sport.”

Arber is speaking from experience.

“I have worked hard and have a 2.8 GPA. I want to study sports management at Post. My dad really pushes me to be the best I can be and I thank him for that,” Arber said.

Arber has played on AAU travel teams and played in Cooperstown, Myrtle Beach, Deleware and Long Island. He was an honorable mention for All-NVL in his sophomore year, was named to the Citizen’s News All-Decade team and in his senior year was named to the All-Copper Division team in the NVL.

Not only has he established himself at one of the best catchers in the NVL he carries a big stick batting over .300 each of the past three seasons.

Arber attributes the success he’s had on the diamond to his coaches over the years.

“Tom Deller my high school coach and Ron Swierbitowicz my Legion coach are great coaches and helped me to be the player that I have become,” Arber said.

Arber also credited his coaches on the Connecticut Navigators Tom Zahornasky and Gary Bellinger for helping him to be a better player.

Arber’s work ethic though was a trait he learned from his parents.

“I see how hard my parents have worked to make a good life for me and my brothers and that just makes me want to work that much harder,” Arber said.

With Arber set to move on in the fall to college, his parents couldn’t more pleased with the young man he’s become.

“I’m so proud of my son. He’s never in any trouble and is very respectful,” Flamur said. “He has worked so hard to be the best student and baseball player that he can be. I see the way he has become and I feel very good, so proud of him.”