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Baseball, softball teams squeeze in practices wherever they can as season approaches

  • A sign asking people to stay off the thawing softball field at Merrimack Valley High School rests against one of the dugouts on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

    A sign asking people to stay off the thawing softball field at Merrimack Valley High School rests against one of the dugouts on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year.

    (ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

  • Snow remains on the edges of the softball field at Merrimack Valley High School and approaches the batting cages on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

    Snow remains on the edges of the softball field at Merrimack Valley High School and approaches the batting cages on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year.

    (ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

  • A sign asking people to stay off the thawing fields at Merrimack Valley High School stand between the baseball and softball fields Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

    A sign asking people to stay off the thawing fields at Merrimack Valley High School stand between the baseball and softball fields Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year.

    (ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

  • A sign asking people to stay off the thawing softball field at Merrimack Valley High School rests against one of the dugouts on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)
  • Snow remains on the edges of the softball field at Merrimack Valley High School and approaches the batting cages on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)
  • A sign asking people to stay off the thawing fields at Merrimack Valley High School stand between the baseball and softball fields Wednesday evening, April 9, 2014. The long winter has pushed back field practice and play for many spring sports this year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

Coping with wet fields, cold weather and even snow is nothing new for local baseball and softball coaches and players. But the extended winter and the amount of snow it deposited on the region has kept teams off diamonds longer than usual this spring. So coaches have been forced to get creative with practices in gyms, parking lots or anywhere else they can find, because most teams open the season on Monday, ready or not.

“We’ve been in the gym trying to vary the drills as much as possible so it doesn’t become mundane,” said Sam York, the Merrimack Valley softball coach.

The Pride hasn’t been on a field yet this spring, so York has needed to dig deep into his bag of drills. He’s also asked his seniors to design a practice in order to increase the variety. MV doesn’t have an indoor batting cage, so the Pride has been using soft Incrediballs in the gym and playing some 6-on-6 games to keep things interesting.

The Pembroke Academy baseball team, which has been on its field only twice so far this season, has also been trying to create some competition during its practices in the gym. The Spartans have used their batting cage to hold intrasquad simulated scrimmages, and they’ve also faced a pitcher who was sure to increase their focus.

“I pitched to them, so we took live at-bats off of coach, which was fun because the kids definitely wanted to hit me,” Pembroke Coach Josh Coughlin said.

There are, of course, plenty of issues with practicing in a gym. First and foremost is the size, but time in the gym is also tight because most schools have multiple outdoor teams searching for indoor practices – varsity and junior varsity baseball and softball, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, and boys’ and girls’ tennis – and a few teams have run into other gym complications. A theater production has taken over the Bishop Brady gym this week, and the batting cage at Winnisquam, which drops down from the ceiling, has been malfunctioning.

Some teams have found time in indoor facilities that don’t have hardwood floors, like the Concord Sports Center, where the Bishop Brady baseball team has taken advantage of the multiple cages and turf surface. The Coe-Brown softball team has gone from the USA Training Center in Newington to the indoor facility at New England College, where the Bears scrimmaged a team from Hartford, Vt., on Saturday.

As nice as some of these indoor places might be, they can’t simulate the real thing.

“It just gets old to be inside,” Brady baseball Coach Skip Foy said. “Baseball is not meant to be an indoor sport, unless you have a dome, and I wouldn’t call the Brady gym a dome.”

So even though the fields have been under snow or too wet to play on for much of the preseason, most teams like to spend some time outside, even if it’s in a parking lot. The Winnisquam baseball team has been on its field, but the only thing being thrown that day was snowballs. So the Bears have been making the most of the three-tiered lot in front of the school.

“We had infield on the top tier, outfield in the middle tier, and then we worked on cutoffs on all three tiers,” Winnisquam Coach Fred Caruso said. “It was just nice to see a baseball against the sky.”

The Bears will be in Meredith today playing on the artificial surface at Inter-Lakes High. Yes, that surface is a football field, but the teams will improvise with a portable mound and makeshift base paths, and they won’t worry that left and right field will be rather small.

Some local teams have spent a fair amount of time on actual grass fields. Hopkinton traveled to Old Lyme, Conn., last weekend and got in a three-hour practice and a nine-inning scrimmage. The Hawks have also been able to use their own field because, after some renovations 15 years ago, it dries and drains quickly. That field is a valuable commodity this spring and three teams – Concord, Laconia and Sunapee – will be traveling to Hopkinton this week for scrimmages.

Most teams, however, haven’t been so fortunate.

“We were trying to get to Hartford, Connecticut, but some things fell through with the fields down there,” Foy said. “But that’s how far people are going, Connecticut, because a lot of the fields in Massachusetts are still wet, too.”

“We open at home on Monday and my guess is the field will be ready by then, or by Tuesday at the latest,” York said. “But we’re probably going to open without having set foot on a field.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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