Area teams forced to get creative preparing for season that winter continues to delay
Ready or not, the spring sports season is … still a ways off.
A few hardy distance runners have ventured outdoors.
Otherwise, area spring athletes have been forced to endure snow-mandated indoor practices well past their scheduled season openers, with no imminent end in sight.
Most springs, weather wreaks a little havoc and throws a wrench in the schedule, with a week of cold weather or a few rain outs forcing teams off the field for a couple of days.
But rarely have there been any like this, where all of the 45 originally scheduled baseball, softball and golf meets through Saturday, April 13, have been postponed or flat-out cancelled.
That’s not counting another dozen events that have been pushed back on multiple occasions since the outdoor portion of the schedule was initially slated to open March 28.
“The athletes are really itching to get outside,” Royalton boys track and field head coach Ryan Olson said. “We have been fortunate for our distance runners to be able to do some outdoor training, but it is really hard when we don’t have the competition to pursue. We have had our fill of lifting, drilling and plyometrics and we are certainly ready for some cooperative weather to arrive to allow us to work in the jumping pits, throwing rings and actually on the track.”
In addition to not being able to compete against other foes, teams are handcuffed in terms of their own training programs as well.
“We are very limited in being able to train for hurdles, handoffs, throws, jumps,” Olson said. “We have not even been able to add hill workouts into the mix because they have still been snow covered. We are trying to mix things up as best as we can even to the extent of playing active games like tag or dodgeball during practice times just to keep kids active and to have a little change included in the regimen.”
“We have not been able to throw outside at all yet,” he said.
“We did shovel off the rings, but I think that if we tried to throw a shot or disc we would have to have a shovel handy to dig the shot put out of the mud or the discus out of the snow.”
For baseball and softball, it is common for pitchers to have the upper hand on hitters in the early stages of the season, given the increased time needed for hitters to hone down their timing.
Expect that gap to widen this spring.
“I think that our pitchers are actually going to be stronger going into our first game than they would be in a ‘normal’ season,” Little Falls baseball head coach Chad Kaddatz said. “Last night (Tuesday), we ran all of our varsity pitchers through a bullpen session of 75 pitches. I don’t know that we have ever gotten above 45 for a preseason session.”
“Our hitters will probably be quite a bit behind as they have not faced live pitchers in an outdoor setting,” he said. “The lighting and speed are so different, as well as the background when you get outside. You can get tunnel vision hitting in a cage and once you get outside your field of view is quite a bit wider.”
On top of that, with a condensed schedule featuring several doubleheaders and games almost every day of the week, teams with a deep stable of pitchers will have an even greater advantage.
Only so many events can be made up, though, as there is a limit to how many innings baseball and softball pitchers can throw and so much distance runners can cover without risking injury.
“It is not a favorable situation for anyone in high school baseball to have this many games condensed into a short time, but we have a large number of pitchers we will be able to use in varsity games,” Kaddatz said.
“We had eight pitchers throwing bullpens last night (Tuesday), which is a much higher number than we have had in the past, so we will be in decent shape in that regard,” he said. “We are confident in our hitters’ ability to take advantage of seeing our opponents’ fourth and fifth starters also.”
For teams hoping to try out new players at key positions, lost games mean lost opportunities.
“I think the weather this spring has affected every team in one way or another to where nobody really has an advantage over anyone else,” Swanville head softball coach Tom Bzdok said. “However, with that said, I think the weather situation may tip slightly in favor of the teams with more experience, those whom have experienced, quality pitchers.”
“Teams without experience, who are lacking the experienced position players and pitching are at a disadvantage because I feel they need the early games to establish themselves and gain the experience throughout the full season to be ready come playoffs,” he said. “An experienced pitcher will not need as long to be in full form. Inexperienced teams may need a number of games just to determine who will be the pitcher.”
“With such a shortened season, there may not be enough time to determine this,” he said. “Certainly this would be the year for someone to be able to make an unexpected run in the playoffs.”
More than likely, only a few opportunities will exist for the Little Falls and Pierz golf teams to even get on the course before the postseason begins as they wait for courses to become playable.
Even after the snow melts from the ground, enough time must be given to allow the ground to thaw to the point of being event-ready.
“Not only does the snow need to melt, the temperature needs to get above 50 for the course to really start drying out,” Pierz head boys golf coach Chris Dobis said. “I’m hopeful we will be on the course on or before the last week in April. However, that might be wishful thinking.”
“Regardless of whether or not the amount of matches is shortened, the amount of time in which they are played is going to be shorter,” he said. “The conference schedule will more than likely be played within a month’s time, instead of two months.”
The Pierz boys golf team has been hitting indoors twice a week to try to get the muscle memory of the golf swing back.
Even so, it is almost impossible to tell how good a golf shot hit into a net actually is.
“Hitting into a net can get old really fast,” Dobis said. “The kids have been doing a fantastic job. Their attitude has not changed. They continue to stay positive.”
“We have also been putting indoors twice week,” he said. “I run them through several drills each time. Putting is easier indoors because you can see the results.”
Instead of gearing up for a conference meet at Howard Lake, the Pioneers spent Thursday making the best of its situation watching golf instead of playing it, taking in the first round of The Masters as a team.
Coaches try to make do by simulating game situations as much as possible for players.
Unfortunately, the physical constraints faced when practicing inside school buildings limit just how much teams can do.
“Most definitely,” Kaddatz said. “We have bounced from the gym to the arena, but there is no way to simulate a full field for throwing or fielding, and the speed of a game is so much quicker than what we can simulate indoors.”
The Flyers have been able to rent space at the “Husky Dome” at St. Cloud State University in past years for a practice if needed, but this spring the building has been booked solid.
“I would guess that the first time for us to be outdoors may be our first game, which will make it difficult, but it is basically the same for all teams in this area,” Kaddatz said.
Another half foot of snow at the end of the week will push start dates back even further, with most of the upcoming week’s events already postponed.
“I have found that it is nearly impossible to try to predict or plan for what you will see, or what twists and turns the season will throw at you, so we will try to get our top nine players and try to compete as best we can,” Kaddatz said. “We have stressed that it is never the best team that wins, but the team that plays the best.”
Assuming, of course, they get to play at all.