Everyone in Joe Ardito’s household can tell when the Messalonskee catcher is practicing.

There are audible thumps whenever Ardito drives another ball into the basement wall. It’s every day, thump after thump, for nearly an hour — and that’s when the sophomore isn’t throwing with his sister, or taking to the house’s free weights for another workout, or doing a few extra pull-ups and chin-ups.

Baseball season isn’t officially in session yet. But when — or, perhaps, if — it begins, Ardito is going to be ready.

“With the season being pushed back, it kind of motivates me a little bit more,” he said. “Now I realize how much I actually miss it, and how much I want to go out and play. Any practice, really, I really enjoy it.”

Madison sophomore pitcher Brooke McKenney delivers a pitch in the garage at her family’s Madison home on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Ardito has company. With the spring season in a freeze due to the coronavirus pandemic, spring athletes across all sports are taking it upon themselves to be sure they’re ready for when the call comes to return to the playing fields. Some are fortunate enough to have training facilities at home, while some have to make due with what they can find out and around town.

I get really bored, and there’s really nothing else to do,” said Winthrop sprinter Jillian Schmelzer, who’s been training to defend Class C state titles in the 100 and 400. “I know it’s very unlikely that we’ll probably have a season, but if there’s any chance there is (one), I want to try to get a step on that.”

There’s a risk for athletes, now unsupervised, to overwork themselves. But MaineGeneral athletic trainer Chris Sementelli said he and his colleagues have been in contact with athletes and schools to pass along training tips, namely getting a core of conditioning down first before working on the specific aspects of the sport.

“The thing that I would encourage the most is for the athletes to be honest with themselves and where they’re at right now,” he said. “We tell the athletes now, you’re going to have to step back a little bit, and we explained to them that you can’t just start where you stopped before. Think about where you were when things shut down … and go back to what coaches have told you in the past about how to get a season started.”

Some athletes have been working since the season was delayed. Ardito and his sister Ava, an outfielder on the softball team, throw outside every day, and will do long toss while mixing in diving drills for her and shorter tosses for him so he can practice barehanded receiving. He’ll also venture down to the basement, where there’s a tee and hard plastic on the walls so he can take full cuts.

“It’s pretty elaborate. We have this whole room dedicated to it,” he said. “Most of the time I’ll set aside 45 minutes to an hour, and I like to get in three buckets. … I can work on different pitch locations, pulling balls, taking them the other way.”

Skowhegan’s Jimmy Reed has a batting cage in his garage, with a pitching machine that allows him to swing against an approximation of live pitching. He’s also started hitting pitches thrown up close by his father, though, to further work on his timing and reflexes.

“It’s more reaction time for me,” he said. “I have to have a quick bat.”

Reed also has a workout area with a squat bar and bench press and lifts three days a week, and said he’ll start riding his bike 2-3 miles a day to work on his cardio.

“Now that (the season’s) delayed, I have to work around that and start preparing mentally for this,” he said.

There’s a similar setup at Brooke McKenney’s home in Madison, where the sophomore first baseman and pitcher has a heated attachment to the house with a treadmill, elliptical and weights area, and a garage where she and her father can work on her pitching.

“I used to go to lifting in the mornings when we were going to school, so I’ve been trying to bring a lot of that and incorporate it at my house and do what I can with what I have,” she said. “I feel very grateful for the opportunities I have.”

McKenney said she’s been able to work on her pitching every other day.

“We’re going to be prepared,” she said. “That’s what we really want to do, prepare for the season that we’re hoping to have.”

Still, practicing the same way each day can get monotonous, and athletes need to get creative. Anna Drillen, a junior on the Maranacook/Winthrop girls lacrosse team, has a net and rebounder at her home, and can set up different challenges to best mimic what she’ll have to do during the season.

Winthrop track and field athlete Jillian Schmelzer stretches on the Maranacook track in Readfield on Wednesday. Schmelzer, who plans to run at the University of Maine next season, is continuing to condition despite a suspended spring season. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“I have a little setup on the net with shooting guards, so I can practice aiming my shot in different areas of the net,” she said. “I’ve been working a lot on switching hands, going behind the back, and different kinds of cradles into a pass. … I really love the sport. It’s not hard for me to stay out there for an hour at a time.”

Jake Weston, a senior on the Gardiner boys lacrosse team, has a net where he can practice shooting. To practice passing, he goes down to the school gym, where he slings balls against the side of the closed building.

“I’ll make a quick move and try to shoot on the net, like I would with a defender there,” he said. “Or some sort of running to a certain angle that I would have to do in a game. Just trying to get the game-like situations back.”

Track and field athletes have been making sure they’re in shape for the targeted start date. Winthrop’s James Cognata, a mid-distance runner, has been running 6-8 miles every day, but has gone to Maranacook High School for track-specific workouts twice a week.

“I’ll do a couple of 200 (meter runs) at a decent pace, a small break, then after a set I’ll have a bigger break, and then I’ll do another set with little breaks in between the 200s,” he said. “I’ll do 400s, fast-paced. Nothing too big. I’m not trying to get ready to race, I’m just trying to stay in shape and, with my legs, keep that turnover, keep that speed.”

Cognata’s teammate, Jillian Schmelzer, has been looking for ways to strength train. And with gyms closed, it hasn’t been easy.

“For lunges and squats and stuff, instead of having a med ball I just use a bag of dog food or something. It’s heavy enough,” she said. “On my stairs, I can do jumping lunges on it and stuff, and do form and sumo squats up and down my stairs. … I just go on my couch and do dips, and push-ups.”

Anything to be ready for the season.

“In the end, it feels rewarding,” Schmelzer said. “I want to keep myself at a place where I left it last year.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

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.