As the weather has turned south over the last week or so, area high school baseball and softball teams have had to deal with schedules that are constantly in flex whether for games, practices or both.
“It’s sort of a challenge to rearrange things and have then bringing stuff to school for both practices and games,” first-year Brookville softball coach Carlie Cook said. “It also just gets frustrating for the girls being inside this long.”
Practicing in the gym and the potential boredom that comes with it seemed to be a theme that resonated among coaches of both sports.
“It’s so hard for guys to focus mentally for two hours in a gym after we’ve just spent the past week outside playing multiple games, practicing outside and getting in a routine,” St. Marys baseball coach Tony Azzato said.
To keep players mentally sharp in the gym, coaches use different tactics including game-specific drills and mini-games.
“It’s definitely not easy to be outside for a few days and be forced back indoors,” Redbank Valley baseball coach Craig Hibell said. “We tend to use competitive drills and mini-games in the gym because asking kids to focus in the gym after being outside just isn’t realistic.”
Those games, according to Hibell, can be working on hitting to the opposite field, bunting drills or even simple games like Pepper.
Mixing up drills is something Clarion softball coach Dan Shofestall does to fight the boredom of gym work.
“We mix up the drills to be competitive,” Shofestall said. “We told them early in the year, we still have to embrace the growing. They still have a job to do. Our girls are really focused and practicing well in the gym.”
Long-time Clarion-Limestone head baseball coach Brad Frazier said the most important thing for him is to keep his players sharp.
“It’s all about pitching and hitting and staying as sharp as possible,” Frazier said. “We always have the guys throw Monday and Thursdays, and it’s important to keep that routine whether we are inside or outside. But pitching and hitting are our two main points of emphasis. Other stuff is tough to work on, especially situational things. You need to be out on a field for that. So, a lot of it comes a lot of times with game experience.”
For Cook, who isn’t that far removed from her playing days both at Brookville and Clarion University, putting herself in the players’ shoes is an important ingredient to indoor practices.
“We would always get so bored when I was playing and practicing indoors,” Cook said. “When I was at Brookville, we would just hit for an entire two hours, and we didn’t get much out of it. So, I let the players bring music and listen to music during practice, and we do different drills for about 20 minutes each. That really seems to liven them up a little bit indoors.”
Some teams use their time indoors as team bonding.
“Our team and coaching staff likes being around each other,” Moniteau softball coach Dan Beebe said. “That helps create good enthusiasm during practice.”
No matter what teams do, practicing indoors in a gym is never the same as being out on the field.
“It’s really hard to do some things,” Cook said. “You don’t have a full field. You can’t incorporate situational stuff because you want everyone to be involved. The team is split up. You can’t do pop ups. You can’t work on certain footwork.”
Shofestall agreed with Cook on the outfield work.
“The toughest thing to work on is especially your outfield,” Shofestall said. “There is not the room or a big enough space to work on high flys in the gym. You can’t do a lot of the drills you do outside because of being inside. I think that’s one of the bigger challenges.”
For some coaches, there are local facilities off school grounds that help make practicing indoors a bit easier.
“Lucky for us, we have access to Beimel Baseball, the local facility in town” Azzato said. “Our guys can hit in multiple cages and stations. We try to make the cage days fun and have different competitions with our groups when we get forced to break out routine.”
In the end, the most important thing for any team is remembering bad weather is just part of life in Northwestern Pennsylvania in the spring.
“We just try to stay in the moment and not let things we can’t control like the weather create poor practice reps,” Beebe said. “At this point in the season, you can almost expect to be playing a game on any nice day, so you have to value the practice time when you can get it.”
Hopefully, with the weather forecasted to get better as this week goes on, the days of practing in the gym won’t be around much longer for local teams.
“You like to be on the dirt, especially fielding ground balls,” Shofestall said. “You aren’t on the dir in the gym. It’s a different surface, obviously.”