Warm weather a blessing on the diamond
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Panther Valley's Zack King (left), Thad Ogozalek (center) and Tom Gallagher (right) take advantage of the warm weather to get their arms ready for the upcoming baseball season.
As the scholastic sports season changes from winter to spring, the weather doesn't always cooperate with the local teams for the first few weeks of practice.
That has been the case for most of the baseball teams over the last few years. The inclement weather, consisting mostly of rain and wind and even some snow, had forced the hardball teams indoors and away from their natural playing field.
Fortunately for all the area teams, that has not been the case so far this year. The uncommonly warm weather has allowed the local baseball teams to get outside and practice on the same surface that they will begin playing their games on later this week.
"This has been a very rare occurrence," said Northern Lehigh manager Erv Prutzman about the nice weather. "We have had seasons where we didn't get on the field until our first game and it wasn't even our field.
"I have been coaching for 37 years and I could probably count on one hand the amount of times we have been able to go outside on the first day of practice."
Last year's spring weather was probably the worst in recent history. All of the area teams, from Pleasant Valley to Marian, had to deal with the constant rain and rarely found the time to get outside. Although all the teams had to manage with the same problem, perhaps nobody had it as bad as Palmerton.
"We got to practice outside for just three hours the whole year," admitted Palmerton manager Tom Smelas. "Between the weather and the condition of our field, we could never get out there.
"I'm not trying to use it as an excuse for our record, but it's almost impossible to try to simulate a baseball game in a gym and then go outside and play on a field. You can't practice situational play. You can't shag fly balls or throw 90 feet. Not to mention you always get good hops in the gym - which is certainly not the case when you get out on the field."
Obviously, baseball teams can not replicate the facets of the game indoors. It is rather easy to see by just looking at the facilities. A gym consists of a hardwood floor surrounded by walls and a ceiling. A baseball field is made up of grass and dirt and really doesn't have any boundaries other than the outfield fence. Spending the majority of their time in a gym makes it nearly impossible to practice some of the most basic, essential aspects of the sport and puts the teams behind the curve when getting ready for their first games of the season.
"The gym is a confined area and you can only do so much," said Northwestern manager Len Smith. "You can introduce ideas and review some things you want to go over, but you can never get the actual feel and work with the true distances.
"Being able to practice outside, you are able to practice all of the concepts. You get the realistic feel of the game. It is something that you just can't accomplish inside."
Prutzman agreed with Smith's sentiments.
"You get the feel for game conditions," said Prutzman. "Throwing from deep shortstop to first base on the field is much different than doing it in a gym. You have to deal with the weather, the wind, the sun, the dirt, and the ground. Inside everything is controlled.
"It is like practicing basketball in the cafeteria and then going into the gym to play your first game. The atmosphere is completely different."
Getting out to their respective field and practicing outside should pay dividends immediately. Whereas most of the teams never got to spend much time outside prior to their first game and it may have hindered their preperation and play early on. It will hopefully be a different story this year.
"I definitely think everyone will be more prepared," said Smith. "We scrimmaged the other night and we did pretty well, especially defensively. And that's due to us being outside and getting good reps. We have been taking the ball off the ground and not off the floor or the blacktop. I think we are way ahead of where we have been in the past and I expect it to pay off right away."