SOUTH CHINA — In the Erskine Academy gym at the end of winter, there were the sounds of spring. Baseballs being thrown, baseballs zipping through the air and baseballs being caught.

That was pretty much it. Just the way Lars Jonassen wanted it.

“I’m not hearing many wall balls,” the Erskine baseball coach said. “That’s good.”

There’s still a foot of snow on the ground and the cold winter winds are still around, but spring made its official return to the sports scene Monday afternoon as baseball and softball teams had their first workouts and practices.

“It gets that first step into the season right out of the way,” Erskine senior Chandler Moore said. “It feels really good. Everyone’s anxious for the season to start, getting all the jitters out and having fun.”

The week was originally meant for pitchers and catchers, but that became an outdated description two years ago when the Maine Principals Association changed its rules to open up the first week of the season — originally limited to eight pitchers and two catchers — to the entire team. Whereas teams had to orginally select which players showed up for the first week, players with and without pitching aspirations can now show up and start practicing.

“That’s the best thing,” Jonassen said. “So if I choose my eight pitchers, there could be two freshmen that I don’t even know who are excellent. So it gave the perception of you were almost picking your team ahead of time.”

Jonassen said the changes to the rules have had a two-fold effect: the entire team benefits from the arm and body workouts, and pitchers can be discovered.

“I’d say about 80 percent of the time you know what you have for pitching, but there’s always a surprise,” he said. “Two years ago we had Zach Glidden, who ended up all-conference as a relief pitcher. We planned on using him as an outfielder.”

The week has kept some of its original nature. Players can only throw and exercise — Erskine had short throwing sessions, held around cardio work, planks and resistance band exercises — and teams can’t work on hitting, situations or anything else addressing the other aspects of the game.

Because the emphasis is on getting in shape to practice, rather than on practice itself, Jonassen said some teams still keep the first week as exclusive as it used to be.

“We call it arm conditioning now,” he said. “Most don’t (include everyone). Most limit it to the kids that signed up as a pitcher or a catcher.”

At Monmouth Academy, there was a team-wide focus for the softball team on cardio and conditioning with running and cone work, while the team’s three pitchers and two catchers started throwing. The Mustangs will all do heavy conditioning on Wednesday and Friday, while pitchers and catchers will throw every day in addition to the conditioning work.

“We give them Tuesday and Thursday off (from conditioning), because they’re going to be sore,” coach Dave Kaplan said.

While Monmouth’s infielders and outfielders won’t be doing much, if any, throwing this week, Kaplan said the ability for the whole team to attend the workouts still pays off in that they’ll be more ready for the full practices that start Monday.

“I really think it’s good in the sense of injury prevention,” he said. “We get them warmed up and stretched out and using muscles in a controlled atmosphere. They’re not just going to go out and chase down fly balls without getting stretched out first. I think the MPA did the right thing.”

Many softball and baseball players have been working out, practicing and playing in the offseason, but there can still be an urge for the players to push themselves on the first official day back.

“You can tell the excitement coming into the season is definitely there,” Moore said. “Not only from the pitchers and catchers, but everybody, just trying to get their arm conditioned. … It can be a little difficult (to hold back), but everybody knows their arm, knows the condition of their arm and can get the feel for things before they start humming the ball and hurting themselves.”

There’s reason for excitement. Spring is on the way — or at least, it’s supposed to be.

“If it wasn’t 45 below outside, it’d feel more like spring,” Kaplan said, laughing. “It’s a grind indoors in Maine. … It’s a crapshoot. In some cases, you end up spending (several) weeks inside and the kids really get antsy. You’ve got to keep it creative, keep it fun.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM