WATERVILLE — Evan Bourget, the catcher for the Winslow High School baseball team, rubbed his right arm as he explained why he played Monday afternoon’s game against rival Waterville in short sleeves despite the cold temperatures. Bourget was one of the handful of players on both teams who played in short sleeves.

“I don’t really like to wear long sleeves. It’s too slippery. I don’t really care if my arm’s warm enough. I think I have enough equipment on to keep me warm,” Bourget said.

Playing baseball on a cold day is a rite of passage for Maine high school players. Monday wasn’t see-your-breath cold. The temperature as the game began at 4 p.m. was 45 degrees, with a wind chill that made it feel 37. By the time the game ended just after 5:30, with Winslow taking a 13-3 win in a game shortened to five innings due to the 10-run rule, it was 43 with a wind chill of 35.

Whoever dubbed baseball players the Boys of Summer never played high school or college ball in Maine.

“My sophomore year of college, it was literally snowing up in Bangor when we were playing a game against Husson. That’s cold, when it’s snowing,” said Winslow coach Isiah Fleming, who played college baseball at Thomas College. “This is cold, but it’s not quite the snow and the rain and the mixed elements and you’re trying to throw a baseball. You’re playing mid-March, so this is nothing. Yeah, coaching-wise I’m freezing, but as a player this is what I live for.”

Much of the game was played under gray skies, and the brown, dead leaves blown against the backstop helped make it feel more like late fall than early spring. The wind was not especially strong, but wind doesn’t have to blow constantly and fiercely to be mean. When there’s already a little chill in the air, the slightest wind snaps like a cornered dog.

“There’s at least one (game) every year it’s going to threaten to snow or is snowing. Today if there was any moisture it would probably be snow,” Waterville coach Russ Beckwith said. “I think it’s a few weeks later than we usually see it, because we got a good start early where it was 70, 80 degrees. It’s tough when it’s chilly. I think it wears on everybody a little bit. Today our bats were cold and theirs stayed hot.”

Ahead 6-0 after four innings, Winslow broke the game completely open with seven runs in the top of the fifth. Leadoff hitter Reid Gagnon hit a grand slam into the parking lot beyond the right field wall to push the Black Raiders lead to 11-0. Gagnon, who hit an RBI triple in the fourth, scored four runs and drove in five, and played as if he were in Florida rather than central Maine. If Bourget’s exposed arms were cold, he didn’t let on, scoring two runs with a pair of hits.

You can say it was the same for both teams, but it’s easier to feel warm when you’re circling the bases. Waterville fell behind early and never recovered. The Purple Panthers committed five errors, each one on a throw. You ever try to grip and throw a baseball when your fingers are numb? It doesn’t feel right, and you just hope muscle memory takes over.

Beckwith didn’t want to blame the cold for his team’s sloppy play.

“I think more so, that’s early season baseball. Working out the kinks more than it is the cold. I’d like to not blame it on that. We’ve got to get back to work tomorrow and see what we can build on from there,” Beckwith said.

Waterville finally found some offense in the bottom of the fifth, rallying for three runs with two outs. Brandon Bearce’s two-run double cut Winslow’s lead to 10-runs, but the Black Raiders got the final out and preserved the shortened win.

April temperatures in Maine swing up and down and all over the place like they’re on a bungee cord. To get in a baseball season, you have to be prepared to play through Mother Nature’s mood swings.

“It’s April baseball. You never know. Look at last Friday. It felt 40 below, then Saturday was 70 degrees. You have to come out prepared for anything and get the job done. I told my guys, you’ve got to think mentally that you’re warm then you kind of forget about the cold and you get your job done,” Fleming said.

Beckwith remembered Waterville’s season opener from two seasons ago. It was played on the artificial turf of Colby College’s Coombs Field because the Panthers’ field wasn’t playable yet.

“It snowed through five, six, seven. It’s just something we have to deal with in Maine that most people don’t,” Bcckwith said.

When he mentioned that game, Beckwith referred to it as last season before correcting himself. As we all know, there was no last season. The 2020 spring was lost in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every athlete who missed out on that season knows to never take sports for granted ever again.

Even the cold days like Monday are a gift.

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