AUGUSTA — Last season, the week for pitchers and catchers workouts meant that baseball and softball were back.

This time, the news is that they’re back to normal.

While the story last year was that teams were excited to get back to playing after the spring of 2020 was wiped out due to the emerging coronavirus pandemic, the story this time is that, for the first time since 2019, teams get to resume rather than reset.

“We’re doing a lot better getting back into our rhythm this year,” said Mackenzie Toner, a junior catcher on the Erskine softball team. “We’re already looking better on Day 4. … I really think we’re going to pick up from where we were last year and do better this year.”

Last spring, many baseball and softball players were going into the season having not thrown a ball or swung a bat competitively in two years. This time, there’s less catching up to do.

“It definitely does (feel different than last year),” said Brayden Barbeau, a senior pitcher on the Cony baseball team. “It feels like I’m more ready to play. I had to get back in the swing of things (in 2021), everything was rusty. Now I’m coming off of a great summer season, and so it just feels like everything’s more smooth.”


This spring, baseball and softball coaches and players have less COVID distractions to deal with. Because of the lost 2020 season, baseball coaches were reluctant to push their pitchers early and managed pitch counts conservatively, and players in both sports had to wear masks indoors and outdoors until April 28.

This time, from Day 1, it’s been full steam ahead.

“COVID’s still a piece, but we have just a better understanding of it,” Cony baseball coach Don Plourde said. “I kind of got engrossed or overly concerned about the spread of COVID, and put a lot of energy into that, which took away from coaching. There was probably a ton of ‘Who are we going to lose this week?’ We had a point where we had five kids test positive last year. … There were just a lot of things that didn’t have to do with baseball.”

Cony’s Aiden Fleck throws during a drill in baseball practice Thursday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Another bit of normalcy is the return of umpires to their customary place behind the plate. Last spring, umpires called balls and strikes from behind the mound in baseball and from a distance behind the catcher in softball, in an effort to minimize close contact with the pandemic in mind.

“I saw a big difference in the strike calls I was getting from the high school season, where they were next to me on the mound, to summer season, where they were behind the plate,” Barbeau said. “It was definitely a tighter zone, and for me, they wouldn’t call them more outside. If something was on the edge of the plate, I thought, they’d call it a ball.”

Toner, who also umpires games out of season, said she’s happy to know they will be closer to the plate.


“It was rough (last year),” she said. “I get the point of (how) being that far back really kills. It’s harder to see the pitchers paint the corners. When they’re right behind the catcher, you get more of your strike calls than you would typically see if they’re farther away.”

Despite the differences, pitchers and catchers week serves the purpose it always does: To get the players’ arms conditioned and ready to handle the throwing load they’ll face this season, and coaches like to take it slow.

“I told the kids two things. I said ‘I want to get you, No. 1, baseball ready, and No.1 2 I want to build a culture,'” Plourde said. “Every year, I think I get a little more patient as far as not trying to get everything in the first couple of weeks.”

Some coaches, however, have had even more on their plate. For new Erskine softball coach Carrie Larrabee, pitchers and catchers week isn’t just a week of arm drills, but a week of figuring out exactly what she’ll have for a team.

“I really had no relationship with any of the players, so it is learning who they are … and getting to know them as well as who can pitch (and) who are the catchers,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, figuring out the players’ strengths and weaknesses.”

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