Last Thursday afternoon, Gardiner Area High School’s softball team was on its field, playing a preseason game on a dry diamond in the midst of a sunny, 50-degree day.

Tomorrow, when the regular season is set to open across most of the state, the conditions will be remarkably… different.

Snow, sleet, rain and unseasonably cold temperatures have most teams facing the same obstacle they were facing when preseason practices began at the end of March. Fields simply aren’t going to have time to recover.

“Spring is going to be rough,” said Maine Central Institute coach Tony Stewart, echoing the sentiments of most of Maine’s softball coaches. “You’ve got April vacation, you’ll have some kids away (on trips), and then you’ve got the weather.”

Both Madison and Skowhegan teams, each of whom played in their respective state championships a year ago, spent the beginning of this week in Florida before returning home to begin their regular seasons in a few days. What will greet them will be a shock to the system, for certain.

Even Madison coach Chris LeBlanc isn’t sure that going to Florida is the right thing to do, given the restrictions the Maine Principals’ Association places on how many exhibition games teams can play.

“I’ve become a big ‘dome’ guy,” said LeBlanc, who would rather play other Maine teams at the indoor facility in Topsham. “Being outside (this early), when it’s cold and wet and windy, you don’t get anything out of that.”

Some schools, like Waterville, have been able to take advantage of a few practices and preseason games on the turf field at nearby Colby College. But that field isn’t always an option.

The Mules are in the midst of the heart of their regular season slate, and opening up times for the field’s availability to high school teams is not easy.

And even if a couple of high school games this week can be moved there, there are still dozens of others that are relying on outdoor conditions on grass and dirt fields to be playable in order to get the season started on time.

Six games are scheduled to kick off the season in central Maine on Tuesday, with another two on Wednesday. The schedule gets busy on Friday with a full 16-game slate involving Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A and Class B teams, as well as Mountain Valley Conference games.

Rain, or a wintry mix, is in the forecast for every day between now and then, with a cloudy day featuring temps in the 40s on Friday.

Welcome to Maine’s early softball season.

“We’ll be lucky to see a field before we see our first game,” Forest Hills coach Jean Turner said recently. “I’m sure everyone else is in the same spot. That’s just some of the hurdles we have to jump over. For us, we’ve got one gym in town (Jackman) and we can’t practice every day.

“We may take some time to get out into the parking lot (at the school) and see what we can do.”

The Tigers are not alone. The size of the school doesn’t seem to hold much bearing in how weather affects preseason preparation.

Pitching machines, ground balls along a gym floor and pop flies in a parking lot are rites of Maine spring softball.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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