Messalonskee pitcher James Smith warms his hands from a heater in the Colby dugout during an April 4 scrimmage against Gardiner. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Fun as it might be to get back on the baseball field, Maranacook pitcher Hunter Glowa said it’s not always pleasant.

At least, not during the first few games of the season, when the spring sport is encountering the last remnants of winter.

Playing outside in general in the cold is just awful,” Glowa said. “Getting and staying warm is a challenge, (as is) being comfortable doing so because you’ve got three-plus layers on, including your jersey. You’re working against nature, nature’s not working with you.”

Every year, the first few games of the season are played in what more closely resembles football weather, with dreary, overcast days in the high 30s and low 40s, chilling winds and occasional rain. And nowhere are those conditions more of an obstacle than on the mound, where pitchers find it hard to do everything from warm up to snap a slider.

“It’s definitely tough,” Erskine pitcher Caden Turcotte said. “I definitely feel really tight when I pitch. I can’t really get loose, and I can’t really throw any curveballs or anything. … Your hands are cold. Everything’s cold.”

The pitchers have it tough, and so do the coaches, who have to monitor their hurlers and come up with a plan to make sure they’re not going too long, throwing too hard or showing any signs that something, physically, is awry.

“It can be cold, but it can also be wet and windy, and all those things can affect how they’re throwing,” Messalonskee coach Ray Bernier said. “I’m probably a little bit over the top with the details. I literally break it down to who’s pitching, what’s our weather like, what kind of a pitch count can they get up to.”

For pitchers, the struggle begins before even taking the mound.

It’s really hard to warm up and stay warm,” Glowa said. “That and you have three layers on, so when you’re tossing before the game, you have three undershirts, a sweatshirt, a coat. It just restricts movement. And then once you’re warm, you have to wear three layers in the dugout to stay warm.”

Maranacook pitcher Hunter Glowa tosses a pitch Monday in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“It definitely takes a lot longer (to get ready) than when it’s 90 in the summer,” Erskine’s Nick Howard said. “You’ve got to make sure you stretch out right. You don’t want to come out and throw as hard as you can. You’ve got to take it slow at first.”

Once the game begins, pitchers can struggle to keep enough feeling in their fingers to have a feel for their pitches.

Ones that you have to snap down on, like sliders and curveballs are harder for me because the fingers are more frail,” Maranacook’s Jay Lauter said. “I experience that almost every game. You just have to work with it. You have to feel around, if something’s not working you move on to some different pitch. If that’s not working, then you’re kind of screwed.”

Pitchers also have to know not to push themselves too hard. Putting everything into a fastball in 75-degree weather with a warmed-up arm is one thing; doing the same in 42 degrees with an arm still being coaxed into form is another.

A lot of times when you get into the season you’re eager to go, you’re itching,” Lauter said. “Sometimes you have to stop yourself and think, ‘Is this best going down the road?’ ”

The key for pitchers is finding a balance between throwing hard enough to get batters out, but not so hard that the arm is at risk early in the year.

You definitely don’t want to come out and throw soft down the center of the plate,” Howard said. “You’ve just got to find that median between 50 and 100 percent in your warmups, so you can come in against your first batter and throw 85, 90 percent.”

The pitchers are conservative, but so are the coaches. Maine Principals Association rules allow pitchers to throw a maximum of 110 pitches in a day, but most coaches said that until temperatures climb, they won’t even go near that number.

“A pitcher might be going well that first game or two, but it’s still cold, so you really want to cap it at probably 70, 75 pitches that first week,” Erskine coach Scott Ballard said. “We don’t want to push it past that, we don’t want to sacrifice a pitcher’s health at the end of the year for a game in April.”

Maranacook coach Eric Brown said he uses the same rule.

I won’t throw a guy more than 70, 75 in his first start, simply because of those factors,” he said. “I’m pretty conservative when it comes to guys throwing. I don’t typically throw guys more than once a week.”

The rules aren’t the same for everyone. Pitchers like Howard and Lauter, who throw throughout the winter at academies, showcases and clinics, are given more leeway with their stronger arms than pitchers like Turcotte, who pick up a baseball and start throwing once the spring begins.

“It’s important to meet those ballplayers where they’re at, and not make one rule that would fit the whole baseball team,” Hall-Dale coach Bob Sinclair said. “With somebody who’s been working out through the winter and they’ve been pitching consistently, it just doesn’t make sense to ask them to throw less because that’s where we’re starting as a team.”

Even if pitchers are within that count, however, coaches watch closely to see how they look — and whether there are signs that they could be having troubles they end up working too hard to correct.

“Velocity’s one (thing to watch) for me. Command is one,” Bernier said. “If I see a guy in the first or second inning who’s got no command, one of the first questions I’m asking on a cold April day is ‘How’s your sensation? Can you feel the ball, grip the ball?’ And if they’re having problems with that, I’m going to move on to one of my next pitchers.”

And if there’s enough cause for concern, out comes the hook. Pitchers don’t always like it, but coaches know it isn’t a battle worth fighting.

I’m more concerned about their best interest and not harming a kid, whether or not we get the win or the loss,” Brown said. “It’s not worth winning the game if you’re harming the kid.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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