GENOA – Genoa-Kingston softball pitcher Baylie Ullmark toes the imaginary rubber near the baseline of the basketball court in G-K’s gymnasium.
The sophomore grabs an indoor softball, softer than the normal ones used in games, and pitches to her teammates in a faux scrimmage. One batter fouls a pitch down the first-base line that doesn’t come down, caught by the netting of the batting cage suspended near the gym roof. Another lines a pitch that is stopped by the gym divider separating the softball team from the girls soccer team practicing on the other side.
So are the circumstances area softball and baseball teams have had to deal with since the high school spring sports season officially started. Through almost two weeks, no area schools have been able to play a single softball or baseball game. Instead, teams have been confined to indoor practices, having to make use of smaller spaces and forcing coaches to become creative in getting their teams ready under less-than-ideal conditions.
“When everybody’s inside, you’re really working stations and breaking things down,” G-K coach Mike Lauer said. “This is limited space really for a field, but we’re going to use it. You adapt and do the best you can.”
The cold weather is a stark contrast to last year when local teams took advatange of the unusually warm weather by practicing outside in late February and playing games in early March.
Lauer said he’s fortunate to have an experienced group with eight of nine starters returning from last year’s team. Still, it’s difficult to simulate game situations in the gym.
“It’s a lot different because of the bounces on the floor,” G-K junior catcher Paige Keegan said. “Even [in the gym] you can’t get the full effect of the weather, the wind. You don’t get used to that.”
Whereas some schools can do more with a larger practice space, smaller schools such as Hiawatha are limited by only having one gym, which is shared by the baseball and softball teams, each getting only 90 minutes of practice time.
“Hiawatha doesn’t have a very large gym,” Hawks softball coach David Tamraz said. “We can’t work on outfield so much, cutoffs, that kind of stuff. We’re basically just doing hitting, infiedling and pitchers.”
With spring break starting next week, some teams face the prospect of not playing a game for three consecutive weeks to start the season, leaving just more than a month until playoffs start in mid-May. Tamraz said the Hawks likely will be playing three to four games a week during the shortened regular season.
Kaneland’s softball team is fortunate. The Knights scheduled a spring break trip to Louisville, where the warmer weather should allow them to get in a number of games against out-of-state competition.
Is there hope, or heat, on the horizon? The 14-day forecast calls for DeKalb County to break 50 degrees by April 1. But could it just be Mother Nature plotting a cruel April Fools’ Day joke?
“We just want to get back outside,” Keegan said. “It’s awful in here.”