For Eric Brown and his Maranacook baseball team, it was supposed to be the perfect way to head into the regular season. Three scrimmages lined up in the final days of the preseason, all against competitive programs, a seemingly ideal way to ease back into the pace of competition.

Well, a snow-covered field at the high school knocked out one game against Monmouth. Another unusable field at Winthrop cancelled a road game with the Ramblers. The Friday game at Cony is no longer that, but a Thursday game at Kents Hill School because — go figure — Cony’s field won’t be ready in time.

By the time the scheduling had settled, Brown could only shake his head at what is really just a small sampling of an area-wide dilemma.

“We went from three games to one, essentially,” he said. “It’s been difficult to figure where you can get a field, because there just aren’t any available.”

Maranacook isn’t alone, and neither is baseball. The start of the regular season looms, and the field sports — baseball, softball and lacrosse — are scrambling to find usable playing surfaces for scrimmages, and then even for games by the time the season rolls around, while their own fields lay saturated with water or, as is the case up north, covered still by a thick blanket of snow.

Of course, it’s Maine, and dry, green fields and sunny 70-degree days are a rarity in April. But even the coaches that have been around believe this winter has been particularly difficult, with the mid-March blizzard that hammered the state dealing a heavy setback.

“I think we’re scrambling a little bit more this year because the snow has lingered on,” Brown said. “We haven’t been getting that good melt. We should be snow-free, it would just be a matter of it drying out.”

Lacrosse’s time crunch is particularly tight — the regular season is scheduled to begin this Thursday, while baseball’s and softball’s is slated to begin the following Monday.

“It’s a tough thing, and everyone’s kind of in the same boat,” said Cony boys lacrosse coach Chad Foye, whose team’s practice fields are starting to dry out while its game field remains snow-covered. “Rescheduling is going to be tight for some teams if things don’t start thawing out and drying up real quick.”

Help exists in the form of turf fields that belong to colleges and private schools in the area, and they’ve been working to clear off their own facilities and offer them to schools needing ways to get their games in. Kents Hill’s turf field is a massive layout that can hold baseball, softball and lacrosse games concurrently, and after hiring a construction crew to clear off one half of the surface, school assistant athletic director Todd Wheelden said he’s been handling calls from high schools trying to use the turf for scrimmages and games.

“We’ve definitely added some new interest, new contacts, that hadn’t inquired into field availability in previous years,” said Wheelden, who has fielded calls from Cony, Monmouth and Mt. Blue baseball and softball, and even UMaine Farmington for college games. “I think people are seeing now that their grass fields aren’t playable, plus they’re not going to be playable for another week, at least. So in order to start getting things in, they need to get it in here.”

Local colleges have pitched in as well. At Colby College, which has a fully cleared and ready artificial turf baseball field, the Waterville and Bridgeway baseball teams played a scrimmage Saturday, and Waterville and Lawrence are slated to play Thursday. At Bates College, where the baseball and softball fields are grass, it has mostly been lacrosse teams from Lewiston, St. Dominic and Edward Little requesting field time. Ditto at Thomas College, where Messalonskee and Winslow are frequent visitors and which hosted a series of girls lacrosse games all day Friday, with Cony one of the teams partaking.

“Our fields are pretty booked most of the time,” Thomas interim athletic director Deb Biche-Labbe said. “We get requests from local high schools even in November and December for use of the facilities, as most of the athletic directors are proactive, knowing they won’t be able to get on their own facilities until later. We’re fortunate that we’re able to provide that opportunity for a lot of the local schools.”

It’s far from a perfect solution, however. Colleges have to give the first rights to the fields to their own teams, then to their own clubs, and then to colleges in need, who are facing an even more desperate situation with pressure to get their seasons finished by May. High schools can ask, and the colleges and preps are willing to help, but there are often not enough available slots to help everyone. Colby director of communications Kate Carlisle said the school receives upwards of 12 requests a day.

“The problem with Colby is that every college team in the area is using Colby right now,” Winslow softball coach Steve Bodge said.

Colby’s not alone. Other schools are feeling the rush as well.

“It’s been pretty non-stop, just getting a lot of calls,” Bates athletic director Kevin McHugh said. “We’ve had a ton of teams want to use both those spaces, and our policy has always been to try to accommodate local teams when we can, but we also have a large constituency of our own to take care of, particularly now with baseball and softball not able to use their field. They use the turf fields so they can get outside and get some work done.”

The result is that high schools settle for the times that are available, which can mean — as is the case with ice arenas for hockey in the winter — showing up to play at odd hours. Kents Hill keeps its field open from dawn until 10 p.m., and teams take advantage. The Winthrop/Maranacook lacrosse team, which calls Kents Hill home, practiced at 6 a.m. Friday morning.

“Literally, that was the only time available,” Wheelden said.

The first full week of the regular season occurs during vacation week for high schools, however, and with their days freed up, Wheelden said that’s a perfect time for teams to get games in while college and prep school classes are in session and the fields aren’t being used.

“Whenever they’re on vacation, they should consider coming out here and rather than it being an afternoon game, they can make it early afternoon, 1 o’clock, or a morning game,” he said. “It’s just one of those years where they’ll have to be flexible and play different times.”

And then there’s the chance that a good amount of high schools will be ready to go by the start of the season. The start of this coming week is supposed to be warm, with temperatures in the 60s, which could go a long way toward melting snow and drying out fields.

Bodge, for instance, feels his field is close.

“If the snow melts Saturday and we get two or three days of sun, we’ll be back on the field,” he said. “No doubt in my mind.”

And if other teams are in trouble with their fields, the Winslow coach said he wouldn’t mind letting his field be one more place to go.

“Nobody’s ever asked in the past, but this year is probably a little worse than ever,” said Bodge, whose team is scheduled to be in South Portland on Saturday. “If we went away on Saturday, I wouldn’t be opposed at all to other schools coming in. … We have a good administration. I have no doubts they’d offer that out.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.