It wasn’t quite spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., but Monday’s opening day of the spring high school season here in Central Maine sure felt like it. With the thermometer nudging 70 degrees, many players went outside and practiced in shorts and T-shirts.

“We’re at least three to four weeks ahead of schedule from last year,” Mt. Blue coach Dan Stefanilo said. “The first time we were on the field last year was the 12th or 14th (of April).”

The opening day combined with great weather made for a high-energy practice, Stefanilo said.

“It felt a lot more loose than it did in years’ past,” he said. “At first, I didn’t think it was the greatest thing in the world, because I confused it with a lack of focus. But as time went on, it helped us out, because it was more of an energy thing than a lack of focus.”

This week is devoted exclusively to pitchers and catchers in baseball and softball. Next week, practices open for spring sports in general.

For the opening week, baseball teams are allowed to use eight pitchers and two catchers while softball teams can use any combination of pitchers and catchers as long as that number is 10 or less.

The first countable date for spring sports is April 12, although many teams get under way during vacation week, April 15-21.

At Hall-Dale, pitchers got to throw off the mound, something they rarely get to do before the second or third week in April.

“We can play a game on it,” Hall-Dale coach Tim Johnson said of his field. “I think tryouts are going to be outside. We’ve never done that before.”

The early week of practice is built in by the Maine Principals’ Association to allow pitchers more time to get their arms in shape.

“The whole first two weeks are just dedicated to throwing mechanics and building arm strength,” Forest Hills coach Mike LeBlanc said.

Forest Hills baseball didn’t have a practice Monday, but that’s not really an issue, since the Tigers aren’t scheduled to open the regular season until April 24.

“I extend it to two weeks because our gym is so small, and we never have eight pitchers anyway,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said he thinks Jackman will have more snowfall before the season starts, but he also pointed out that there is no snow on the field right now. Considering the Tigers were kept off the field last year by snow during April vacation, that’s a big step.

Pitching depth is far less important in softball where one pitcher often pitches most every inning during the season. Messalonskee softball coach Leo Bouchard has his pitching set with Kai Smith, one of the top pitchers in Class A last season as a freshman.

But catcher Alyssa Eugley graduated, so Bouchard is auditioning Natalie Hunt and Emily York for that role. Eugley will be an assistant coach after her season at Thomas College is over.

“I need a good backstop back there,” Bouchard said. “Preseason’s going to determine what we’re doing. If I put Emily behind the plate, I’ve got to find a third baseman.”

Johnson, who is the athletic director at Hall-Dale, is returning to coach baseball for the fifth time in his career.

“I was pretty excited the last couple of days,” he said. “I had a hard time focusing. It was great to be back out there.”

Several coaches are making debuts in softball and baseball this spring.

New softball coaches include Ginger Shaw at Gardiner, Paul Rodrigue at Mt. Blue and Tom McCafferty at Mt. Abram. In addition to Johnson, new baseball coaches include Chris McLaughlin at Gardiner, Pete Dennis at Oak Hill and Jesse Lacasse at Winslow.


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