The season begins in February, so perhaps calling them “spring” sports is a bit of a stretch.
Baseball and softball have always been the most weather-dependent of team sports, making them flexible out of necessity. More often than not, it seems, they start their respective seasons indoors, fielding ground balls off a gymnasium floor. Instead of grooming the grass and raking the field, programs are waiting for snow to melt and the ground to thaw.
Scott Kine’s first season as head softball coach at Shadle Park was, well, the polar opposite of what you would expect.
“We went out there and cleared off both our infield and our outfield,” he laughed. “I have pictures of us out there with snow blowing 40 feet out of our snow blower.”
Other coaches called him crazy, he said. Until he had his players out on the field while the rest of the Greater Spokane League was still working out in the gymnasium.
“It made us really popular with our players, that’s for sure,” Sine said. “They were watching us out there doing all that work. They appreciated it.”
University softball coach Jon Schuh is meticulous about his three fields. He puts in many hours preparing and maintaining each one.
At mid-week, Schuh was still waiting for areas to completely thaw so that he could finish getting them prepped and ready for Monday’s first turnout. Other areas were kept under tarps, hoping to seal in the daytime heat.
“That’s the challenge,” he said. “We’ve had warm days, yes. But when you go back down into the teens at night you don’t make much progress.”
His bottom line, however, was simple.
“If I had to practice today, I could use my field,” he said Tuesday.
And the chances of being able to play outside on the first day of turnout are improving.
“You just can’t replace being on the field and taking real ground balls in the dirt,” Schuh said. “You can’t watch your outfielders track a ball unless they’re outside. Hitting off a pitching machine is fine, but you really have to learn to hit off of live pitching.
“There’s just nothing like it.”
Both coaches have kept a keen eye on the weather forecast as they prepare for Monday’s first day of practice. With a chance of rain still lingering in the 10-day forecast, neither was willing to make predictions.
More often than not in recent years the first of the spring’s turnouts have been conducted indoors.
“You can do a lot indoors,” Sine said. “You can throw. You can hit. We can work on some of our plays. You can’t do much for your outfielders.”
“Fielding ground balls indoors isn’t very good,” he said. “But you can work on your footwork. You can work on your technique.”
Sine said he learned a lesson from last year’s late start. He’s scheduled a road trip for his Highlanders.
“We’ve arranged to play a couple games in the Vancouver area,” he said. “They should have better conditions there, even if we can’t play at home. We’ve arranged to stay in a hotel in the Auburn area and we’re going to take the girls to see a game at the University of Washington.
“I’m hoping that I can talk with coach (Heather) Tarr and see if she will let us tour their facility. The good thing is that our girls will be able to watch them play and see that National Championship banner they have hanging off the wall in center field.”
Typically the funds needed to pay for a road trip like this one aren’t available, the coach said.
“Our fundraiser last year was very successful, and I want to have a trip like this for the team every year. About half of our players have aspirations of playing softball at the next level, and getting the chance to see what that can mean is a great opportunity for them.”