By ANDREW WILLIAMS
It’s been spring, according to the calendar, for more than a week now.
Try telling that to local high school baseball and softball coaches, because they aren’t quite convinced.
While many people are still trying to thaw out from one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record, area coaches are doing their best to make fields playable and get their teams quality practice time amid the lingering wet and sometimes frigid conditions.
“We had to shovel snow off our field a couple weeks ago just to get the big drifts off or else there’d probably be a couple of them still there,” Elmwood baseball coach Kyle Reiser said. “That’s only happened a couple other times I remember.
“It’s hard to get things in. When we went down to Cincinnati to scrimmage last weekend, we had not been on a field yet. Pitchers hadn’t thrown off a dirt mound and we hadn’t seen any ball out of a pitcher’s hand yet so that was our first time. I don’t think that’s ever happened.”
Reiser, who won his 500th game last season and is entering his 26th year at the helm of the Royals’ program, said he’s been around long enough to see situations like this year, where some schools may lose the whole first week of the season due to the unfavorable conditions.
For others, though, this is the first time weather has caused problems so close to the beginning of the season.
“I don’t remember it being this cold this long,” said Shawn Sunderman, who is in his sixth season as baseball coach at Patrick Henry. “But I guess when you go back and you break records for snowfall, we don’t usually see anything like this too much.
“(Wednesday) the kids worked on some snow drifts that were in the warning track and (in) the dugouts. Since that’s not on the field of play we weren’t doing any damage to the field. We’re just trying to break up the ice chunks to help melt it faster and remove whatever chunks we could.”
Sunderman said the Patriots have been unable to play any of their scheduled scrimmages so far, and haven’t even been able to get on their own field because the weather simply hasn’t cooperated.
Sunderman and Reiser said they are doing the best they can to prepare their teams with limited time on the field. But both expect it to take awhile for their players to get acclimated to playing outdoors again after spending so much of the preseason practicing in the gymnasium.
“Our biggest fear is to start hitting outside, our offensive production, how far behind we’re going to be,” Sunderman said. “It’s just such a different thing to hit from artificial light indoors to going outside to the sunlight.
“We have been outside on blacktop where we can get arms stretched out throwing-wise, we can get ground balls and fly balls. So we can get a lot of our defensive work out there.”
“I noticed, especially when we started scrimmaging and finally did get outside, that it was going to be awhile before we got our outside legs back,” Reiser said. “We’re used to running on a gym floor and it’s a little different running outside. Things looked like they were going in slow motion.
“It’s totally different outside than inside and fielding ground balls off the gym floor is totally different than going out on grass and dirt and the timing and everything like that. There’s a lot of things that you have to get used to before you’re ready and we’re still not used to them.”
While it has been an uphill battle trying to get ready for the 2014 season, which officially was scheduled to begin Saturday, at least one team is finding a silver lining in the probability of a later start to the season.
After a trip to the Division IV girls regional basketball tournament a few weeks ago, New Riegel is just now beginning to get into the swing of things.
Coach Jamie Lininger said his team has had one full week of practice together because of basketball. A senior class trip this past week then left only the underclassmen behind in the final week leading up to the start of the season.
“It probably does give us a little bit more time to prepare,” Lininger said. “You just kind of go with the flow and don’t worry about things you can’t control.”
The Blue Jackets return eight starters from the 2013 squad that made a regional appearance and Lininger doesn’t think a slow start to the season due to weather will prevent his team from building on the success it had a year ago.
“Right now I don’t picture us being able to play Monday,” he said. “Our infield’s still a little mushy but the outfield’s fine. I kind of figure next week will be about a washout for us. I’d imagine we might lose a couple games this year, but I still expect us to have anywhere between 23 and 27 games.”
Although it’s been mostly doom and gloom since spring began, the coaches aren’t letting that dim their enthusiasm for the upcoming season. Even with the threat of more snow to dampen spirits and their ballfields, they know it won’t last forever.
“Major League Baseball, when everything’s on the line in the postseason, they’re playing in cold conditions for their livelihoods,” Sunderman said. “As long as the field’s safe and it is warm enough at least for pitchers where we don’t have to worry about any injuries. If we can meet those two qualifications then we go ahead and play.”
It appears area baseball and softball teams will finally catch a break.
The latest forecast for Monday is calling for sunny skies and temperatures in the lower 60s.
“We’re tired of looking at four walls,” Reiser said. “It’s hard to motivate. For a couple weeks it’s OK because you’re teaching a lot of things, a lot of little things. Eventually you want to get out there and get some space. You’ve just got to try to stay positive and work on the things you can work on and reassure them that we will be getting outside sometime.”
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