Late winter weather forces local athletes to practice outdoor sports indoors

The crazy Spring weather has wreaked havoc on the local high-school sports schedule, but the postponement and cancellation of games and meets is only part of the picture.

Local coaches have had to keep their teams indoors for practices as well, with little if any opportunity to prepare them for what they will face outside when games finally do start happening.

Onekama baseball coach John Neph said that he’s been able to hit some fly balls to his outfielders on the Portagers’ football practice field for the first time on Tuesday, but for the most part, his team has been confined to the gymnasium.

Neph said that the Onekama baseball diamond was still about 20 percent covered in snow late Tuesday, and the home-plate area and the right-field corner were both still pretty wet.

“I’m really proud of our guys, it’s been hard for them being inside so much,” Neph said. “We still have great work ethic, the kids are showing up and working hard, and we’re getting some things done. All of us are really, really anxious to get outside, though.”

Manistee softball coach Ross Vander Weele, who has had his debut as the team’s head coach delayed due to the weather, said that his team has been outside just twice so far this season. While the Chippewas’ scheduled doubleheader with Cadillac Thursday was postponed, Vander Weele said that the softball diamond was good enough to hold practice on Tuesday.

“It’s not in great shape, but we’ve played on worse,” Vander Weele said. “It’s very obvious that the girls are very bored with indoor practices. There are only so many drills you can do without them going, ‘Yeah, I’ve done that before.’”

Vander Weele said that the most important thing his team can’t learn while practicing indoors is how to field a bad hop on a ground ball. The balls the team uses on a gym floor is softer than a regulation softball.

“They come close to playing the same, but they really don’t,” he said. “They don’t feel the same, they don’t throw the same. The ball in the gym has a standard hop. That’s the biggest difference, they’re getting accustomed to playing the ball in the dirt.”

Even a sport like track and field, which is seemingly not quite as dependent upon a dry surface to practice on, has been affected by the snow.

Brethren track coach Kyle Griffin said that that his team has been out on the track only once since Spring Break.

“The biggest thing is that you’re not able to get the kids’ lungs used to the outdoor air, versus the indoor air,” Griffin said. “The longer you run inside, the more you’re just begging for shin splints later on in the season. So it kind of holds us back on how much actual conditioning and event-specific stuff we’re able to do.”

Griffin said that the field events are particularly challenging to duplicate inside. He cited Logan Tighe, who qualified for last year’s State finals in the high jump, as an example.

“We can’t get the mats inside, we don’t really have any sand (for long jumps) inside,” Griffin said. “Logan went to the State meet in the high jump, and he hasn’t high-jumped since States.”

But it has not been all negative. Neph said that having games postponed or cancelled has allowed him to get his pitchers a little more work than they would have had the games been played, due to the restrictive pitch-count rules that went into effect last season.

“If we would have played last week, my starting pitchers would have been limited somewhere around 50 pitches in a game before I’d make a change,” Neph said. “Now, we’ve had a chance to get them to increase their pitch count. So we were able to bump up a few of our guys who we think we’re going to start a little bit on their pitch count.

“It’s all Plan B, because Plan A is to play.”

There does not appear to be an end in sight, weather-wise. As of Tuesday night, the National Weather Service was predicting either rain or snow every day for the rest of the week, and a chance of rain and snow through the weekend.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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