The high school baseball season is in a battle with Mother Nature right now.
It’s been a pretty one-sided fight so far.
With snow still coating the ground, cold weather in the forecast and dozens of cancellations in the past few weeks, it’s becoming readily apparent that 2013 will be anything but standard for high school baseball teams.
About a month into the season, teams are still practicing indoors, still working on the same basic drills and still wondering when they will be able to play on an actual baseball field.
“I think the hardest part right now is that you just don’t really know when this is going to end,” McDonell coach Eric Wedemeyer said. “Like this week, if it was supposed to get nice and you could see the light at the end of the tunnel, you could push through it. But right now it just seems indefinite.”
There are a handful of problems that the lingering winter weather is causing for area baseball teams.
First off, practicing inside just isn’t as productive. Sure, players can work on basic fundamentals and situational defense, but becoming a cohesive baseball team can’t take place in a gym.
Hitting live pitching, working on outfield communication and fielding a ground ball on good, old-fashioned dirt and grass aren’t skills you can learn inside.
“You try to throw live to hitters in the (batting) cage and kids don’t like pitching in a cage. Kids don’t like hitting in a cage. It just doesn’t work,” Chi-Hi coach Jason Bobb said. “There’s no way to simulate a game. I don’t know what we do. ... (Outfield) communication drills are all but impossible to do in a gym. You can throw a ball up and tell them to yell, but how real is that? The outfield stuff is the hardest part to try and simulate.”
Another problem with practicing indoors is evaluating players you aren’t quite sure about. Good or bad, there’s no way to accurately assess how a player is performing if he’s hitting in a batting cage and taking ground balls on a hardwood floor.
For Wedemeyer, this is especially disconcerting considering his Macks travel to La Crosse Aquinas on Saturday for a game he expects will go on as scheduled.
“Especially with a young team, we’re going to have guys starting in that game and two of them are going to be freshmen who I have never seen play on a field before,” Wedemeyer said. “It’s going to be interesting. But it will be nice to get on a field doing some live action regardless of how the game turns out.”
Finally, and probably most significantly, is the compressed schedule teams will need to navigate once games do start in late April or early May.
As of now, the Big Rivers, Western Cloverbelt and Heart O’North conferences are attempting to play all scheduled conference games whether it means bumping nonconference games off the schedule to make room or playing on days normally devoid of games.
The Lakeland Conference will count the first game played between conference teams as “conference,” while the second game played will be “nonconference” due to the fact that not all teams will be able to get in two conference games against each opponent.
But even if the number of nonconference games is reduced, that would still mean 12 conference games in the Big Rivers and 14 in both the Western Cloverbelt and Heart O’North — all in the span of about three weeks to a month assuming games aren’t played until next week at the earliest.
With that amount of games being played in a short time frame, it could leave teams in a tight spot in terms of pitching, especially because of WIAA regulations on innings pitched.
With the current reworked schedule, Wedemeyer believes his team will be able to manage when it comes to pitching, but it will still be a delicate balance.
“(Conference athletic directors) were talking about going to just doubleheaders, but the way that that was originally planned, we would be playing six games in a week and we don’t have the pitching for that,” he said. “There’s maybe one or two teams that do (have the pitching) in our conference, but we certainly don’t. As it’s set right now, it’s doable. But it’s all contingent on whether we get started or not next week and that’s up in the air.”
For Chi-Hi, that won’t be as much of a concern and Bobb actually thinks that if things work out, a compact schedule could work in the Cardinals’ favor.
“We have 13 guys that say they can pitch. Whether 13 guys can pitch in a game will remain to be seen,” Bobb said. “We have arms. To be honest with you, with a condensed schedule, if we can get nine of those kids to throw strikes consistently, I think we’ll be ahead of other teams.”
However, he’s also wary of the other possibility.
“The other side of the coin is if we can’t get eight or nine kids to throw strikes, we’re going to be in a world of hurt.”
But for now, all Chi-Hi, McDonell and the rest of the baseball teams in Chippewa County can do is wait and hope for spring to finally arrive.
“I hope it warms up,” Bobb said. “It’s got to warm up, doesn’t it?”