Despite a rule change last year that no longer limits the number of players coaches can bring to the first week of baseball practices, some area coaches didn’t change a whole lot as pitchers and catchers reported for the first day of preseason on Monday.
The Maine Principals’ Association previously limited the number of pitchers and catchers allowed to report to baseball practice a week ahead of the start of spring practices across all sports. This year, as it has been all along with softball, there is no longer a cap on the number of bodies allowed to participate in throwing and conditioning drills — so long as all involved are limited strictly to either throwing or conditioning.
That means no hitting, fielding or even work on baserunning or defensive positioning.
Still, baseball coaches were reluctant to add many extra bodies. Waterville Senior High School had 12 players at practice on Monday, including nine pitchers and three catchers.
“Basically, I brought every person on the roster who said they’d pitched before,” second-year Waterville head coach Dennis Martin said. “You can’t hit, you can’t do any of that stuff. You basically want them to throw the ball and run. That’s it.”
Softball teams took the same approach. Skowhegan Area High School head coach Lee Johnson, who has been at the helm since 2000 and led them to the Class A state championship in 2014 and a regional title a year ago, believes less is more.
He’s not tempted to bring in more players to get a jump on getting in shape.
“I like to make this week more about pitchers and catchers,” Johnson said. “I’ll be honest with you, once you have tryouts and get your teams picked, it’s hard to find time to focus on just your pitchers and your catchers because you’ve got so much going on in a gym with all your other position players.”
Unlike baseball pitchers, softball pitchers tend to work more during the offseason, either with travel teams that are afforded the ability to play indoors or with private pitching coaches. That commitment, Johnson said, means there’s less to work on once spring rolls around.
“I go three times a week (to pitch during the offseason) for a few months, and then I’ll take a month off, and then I’ll go back and do it again,” Skowhegan’s Sydney Ames said. “That way I’m pushing myself, but at the same time I get a rest so I don’t hurt myself. I just maintain the motions.”
Skowhegan has Ames, a sophomore, and Ashley Alward, a junior, to anchor its pitching staff. At Madison, the Bulldogs are similarly set in the circle with senior Madeline Wood and junior Whitney Bess, among other options for coach Chris LeBlanc.
LeBlanc had his team working through conditioning for most of its indoor session Monday, with the team split into groups alternating between weight training and other exercises. He only planned to have his pitchers throw a few pitches at the end of the session.
“We basically let the girls control what they do,” LeBlanc said. “I certainly have expectations, but we basically will go on what they need. We’ll start out and it will be very basic, but when they’re done, they’re done… The only thing I tell them is that they have to leave with an ice bag.”
“It’s just kind of getting back into it, and not going quite so hard but getting back in the groove so we can start going harder in the next few weeks,” Wood, a three-sport athlete, said of the pitchers-and-catchers-only practices. “We do more conditioning here than we do in basketball. You’ll do running, you’ll do power lifting, you’ll do circuits that work your whole body.”
Martin said his pitchers threw 25 pitches on Monday and would likely stay close to that number through the remainder of the week. Full teams, and all other high school sports, begin practicing next week. By the scheduled start of games in mid-April, pitchers expect to be stretched out to close to 90 pitches with an eye on more pitchers being needed this season with the MPA’s implementation of pitch count limits.
Softball coaches don’t have to worry about pitch counts, with the common practice of pitchers pitching all three of a team’s games during a week.
“If you’ve got that pitcher that can go, they’re going to pitch every Monday, Wednesday, Friday,” LeBlanc said.
Alward said that, even though she’s pitching for a travel team virtually every weekend during the offseason, this week is advantageous for building back up toward that goal of pitching multiple games a week for the two-month stretch that comprises the high school season.
“It’s a little bit of conditioning now, but it’s really all about just getting better spins and better spots and fine-tuning all of your pitches,” Alward said. “At the end of the week it can get a little rough on you, but it’s at that point where you have to dig down and dig deep and get what you can out of your body so that you’re giving 100 percent at all times.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621