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Area baseball, softball teams must overcome practice freeze

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Hauser infielder Ali Hoover looks to fire to first base after fielding a ground ball during outdoor practice at Hauser High School. (Tommy Walker/For The Republic).
Hauser infielder Ali Hoover looks to fire to first base after fielding a ground ball during outdoor practice at Hauser High School. (Tommy Walker/For The Republic).

Hauser outfielder Tessa Bobb chases down a long fly ball during outdoor practice at Hauser High School. (Tommy Walker/For The Republic).
Hauser outfielder Tessa Bobb chases down a long fly ball during outdoor practice at Hauser High School. (Tommy Walker/For The Republic).

As the Major League Baseball schedule expanded and crept from April into March, the concern was focused on bad weather.

How could the players switch from spring training in beautiful Florida or Arizona and perform in frigid conditions?

But what about high school players in states such as Indiana?

There is no trip to Tampa or Phoenix to work out the kinks. Local high school softball and baseball players have been locked inside trying to prepare for a season that is about to begin.

Considering that many of the programs are enjoying spring break this week, the number of possible outdoor practice sessions are dwindling.

“Obviously, we are blessed since we added our fieldhouse,” said Hauser softball coach Craig Sims. “It’s such a big difference because we can get a lot accomplished. Our conditioning is probably better indoors because we have the weight rooms and we also can focus on fundamentals, breaking it down from the feet all the way to the shoulders.

“Still, you can’t do outfield drills with 30-foot ceilings, and we only hit off a pitching machine once every three days.”

Sims took his team outdoors Saturday

morning in 40-degree weather knowing that the Jets’ season begins April 1 with a game at Brownstown Central.

“We have to use a Softie softball inside, and the girls start to anticipate that bounce if we are doing infield drills. When they get on the diamond, the ball stays low.”

Even if the conditions outside are less than perfect, Columbus East softball coach Sonny Stahl said his players are happy to get a taste

of fresh air.

“They are gung-ho,” Stahl said. “We’ve been conditioning two days a week since September.”

Stahl said his players have gotten as much as possible accomplished inside.

“But it’s not the same,” he said. “Infield drills are not as good as live, and the way the ball bounces is not the same. The hitting machine only throws a straight ball, and doesn’t give you a curve or a drop or a change-up. Watching a ball come from a pitching machine, you can get the timing down. It’s easier to hit.

“To work any infield-outfield drills is tough because you are confined. You need that time outside.”

Stahl said that fortunately for his players, the East athletics department does whatever it can to make sure they have space to accomplish whatever conditioning they can inside.

But whatever space is available, both softball and baseball coaches have trouble re-creating drills meant to be played outside, where the sky is the limit.

“The bounce of the ball is different because the ball is softer,” said North softball coach Jerry Burton. “But it’s better than nothing. And probably one of the keys of working inside is that it is a good time for the older kids to work with the younger kids. You work on the fundamentals of the game.”

North opens the softball season on March 29 at South Dearborn, so whether the team is inside or outside, the Bull Dogs are in a hurry.

“We have 11 practices before we play so we have to get stuff done in the offseason,” Burton said.

Once the teams do get outside for practice, Burton said it still requires a little adjustment.

“You think you might be ready, but it is a whole different atmosphere,” Burton said. “We start using the real balls and they are heavier. You end up with sore arms that first week.”

Jennings County softball coach Kendall Wildey said it can be tough to evaluate players when the weather is bad.

“We’ve obviously been inside a lot and this is our tryout period,” Wildey said.

Wildey agrees with Burton the different type of softball used indoors can cause problems with the girls conditioning their arms. He also said that he uses his pitching machine more for outfield drills than he does for hitting.

“I don’t like them,” he said of pitching machines. “I would rather have the players hit off a tee.”

Area baseball players face the same concerns.

“Hitting in a cage is a lot different than facing a live pitcher,” said Columbus North baseball coach Ben McDaniel. “When you get outside, you can notice the difference and you have to adjust.

“And we don’t have anywhere to throw any real distance inside,” he said. “We don’t have 127 feet for a catcher to throw to second base. So you practice situational baseball and we go over numerous situations with our younger kids.”

Columbus East baseball coach Jonathan Gratz said the Olympians have gotten a lot accomplished indoors.

“We have two cages inside and we usually face live pitching,” he said. “We have worked on fundamentals and really a lot of things that get neglected when you are outside.

“Obviously, you can’t do fly balls and we use a softer baseball so we don’t break things in the gym.”

The bottom line for all the coaches is that they want to see the miserable weather go away.

“When we get outside, the tempo picks up and the attitude picks up,” McDaniel said.

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