The sound of baseballs and softballs hitting gloves Monday afternoon was a welcome one even if getting outside to play by opening day appears unlikely given the amount of snow on the ground as March winds to a close.
The occasion was the arrival of high school pitchers and catchers who the Maine Principals’ Association allow to practice a week earlier than their teammates to get their arms in shape. Baseball pitchers need all the time they can get to prepare their arms for the season, softball pitchers, not so much.
“Most of these kids should be ready to go, unlike baseball,” Gardiner softball coach Ginger Shaw said. “Softball is a more of a general motion of the shoulder anyways as long as you’re not doing a lot of the screwballs and the curveballs and stuff like that.”
The MPA allows just 10 players for pitchers and catchers week and although softball can use any combination of those positions, baseball is required to use eight pitchers and two catchers. Coaches are allowed to oversee conditioning and arm development but must stay away from game situations or strategy of any kind. Full team practices for all spring sports begin next Monday with the first countable games on April 17.
Gardiner junior Kristal Smith appeared in midseason form as she fired fastballs into the mitt, not surprising since she’s been at it all winter.
“I usually practice three days a week,” Smith said. “Two days during school I wake up at 4 a.m.”
Expectations for the Tigers this season are high. In addition to Smith, senior pitcher Brittany Rollins returns to the lineup along with several of her teammates. Last year, Gardiner finished 17-2 and reached the Eastern Maine Class B championship game.
“I am very excited,” Smith said.
The Winslow baseball team reached the Class B state championship game last season and returns several of those players, including four pitchers. Coach Jesse Lacasse said he’ll take it slowly the first few weeks of the season.
“I focus on slowly progressing arms and a lot of running,” he said. “I do more lower body conditioning with the catchers.”
Lacasse said his pitchers won’t take to the portable mound until at least Wednesday and they’ll be limited to no more than 25 pitches for the first week and no curveballs for at least two weeks.
“The biggest one is not using curveballs,” he said. “I don’t think the arms are ready for it for awhile. I want them to rely on fastballs and chanegups more anyway.”
Two years ago, Winslow held its pitchers and catchers week outside and last year, the Black Raiders were outdoors by the second week of practice. That won’t be the case this season.
“I think we’re going to be in the gym for awhile,” Lacasse said. “I try to ingrain in their heads they have time to get their arms ready.”