Foul weather throws season a changeup
The weather has started to disrupt the spring sports season much more than in the past and it's had activities directors and coaches scrambling to find practice time and space.
It hasn't been easy for the Woodbury, East Ridge and Park baseball teams but each team has found a way to get practice time and space amongst all the other spring sports competing for gym time. For some it's meant practices before school or later in the evening. But in each case baseball coaches have had to adjust to more time in the gym than anticipated.
"Hitters always seem to be behind everyone else," Royals head coach Kevin McDermott said. "Competitive cages inside are not like hitting live outside in a real game situation."
Pitching will be even more of a premium than it already is once the season begins. After having lost two weeks of games area teams will have to cancel games or squeeze as many games in as they can. That will mean weekend games and possibly several doubleheaders.
"They get a little itchy, but overall attitudes have been great," Wolfpack head coach John McGowan said. "Their focus has been good. They definitely want to get out and scrimmage someone else. We try to vary our drills, keep it exciting for them."
McGowan's introduced games like a bunting scrimmage to work on fundamentals while keeping practice lively during this time. By not being able to get outside it has limited the amount of time coaches have spent working with outfielders on cutoffs and relays, not to mention the lack of live pitching hitters see.
Area baseball coaches have tried to prepare their pitchers for the rigors of the season by increasing pitch counts in practice and working with pitchers who likely would have started the season on the junior varsity to build experience. Now that experience will come quicker on varsity.
"We've already got a couple of guys who we liked, some juniors who are going to be JV at least early in the year," McDermott said. "Now we're going to pull them up and throw them in the fire right away because we're going to need to use them each week. It's more opportunities for more guys and it's certainly going to test your pitching depth."
Woodbury baseball switches its practice schedule each spring with softball and has practices scheduled following the end of the school day. There hasn't been much shuffling for the team to make because it had the practice time in advance, but the team still expected to be outside by now. Other teams like Park and East Ridge have had to work with community education at each school's activity center to make time. Community education at Park and East Ridge have made time for the spring sports activities there, but it's meant practicing at different hours.
"This week there was really no time scheduled for sports so we had to go to community ed and get all the gym space until 10 p.m. and we had to go through and assign each sport a time," Raptors baseball head coach Brian Sprout said.
Park has faced a similar situation with late practices.
"We're probably late a couple times a week," McGowan said. "It kind of varies. You've got to be real flexible. We were going until 10 some nights."
For the most part each team has spent plenty of time working on drills and hitting in the cages. Area teams have tried to vary the looks hitters get with the pitching machine and facing their own pitchers.
Teams are still missing out on game situations. Coaches have tried to simulate game situations in practice but going from practice to a game is not the same inside the gym. Teams have done fielding drills inside the gym but that environment can't produce the same hops fielders will see on the field.
Some teams have found time in domes, but that hasn't been the case with Woodbury, East Ridge and Park. Each school has turf football fields and got to practice on that surface earlier, but with snow remaining on the surface all three have returned to the gym. When the weather has allowed it, teams have gone outside to parking lots for long toss and grounders, but the opportunity hasn't presented itself often.
Even all the drill work has worn on the coaches at times.
"We're really recycling a lot of old stuff that we're doing," Sprout said. "I'm getting to that point myself too."