Scott Ericson: High school baseball belongs in the spring
Baseball people all over Connecticut are frustrated.
With several inches of snow coming down Monday, many games during the first full week of the baseball season are unlikely to be played until later in the spring.
Teams with artificial turf will be back on the field first, followed by those with ample sun exposure and dedicated grounds crews, but having five inches of snow covering the diamond to kick off the first week of the season is not ideal.
However, it is part of baseball in Connecticut that the fields are too wet or in this case, to snowy to play on in early April.
Heading into opening day last Saturday, teams with grass fields were lucky if they had a day or two outside playing before the season began because of snow from previous storms.
Darien, Norwalk and McMahon have artificial turf fields, lessening the impact of the weather and allowing them ample time on the field in the preseason and less likely to postpone games in season.
If it is not actively raining, or snowing, there will be games on those fields this week.
More schools changing to artificial turf seems to be the way things are heading but for some, the last thing they want to see is no more dirt and grass baseball fields.
For those seeking alternatives to the sterility of fake grass another option has been floated.
Moving the high school baseball season to the fall.
I’ll give the baseball purists a moment to gather the pieces of their heads that exploded after reading that last sentence.
Prior to this season, it was put to me by a FCIAC official that it would make more sense for baseball to be a fall sport.
The reason given was better weather so teams would be outside from day one of pitchers and catchers reporting rather than teams training in the gymnasium.
The second point being there would be less postponed games in the opening weeks.
For the record, there are no official plans about making this move.
“It has been talked about here and there but I don’t think it will ever happen,” Trumbull coach Phil Pacelli said. “It is nice weather in the fall but starting baseball in the spring just feels right.”
That is one thing that will not change among baseball people.
The game can change in other ways regarding strategy, metrics and player preparation but the season has to start in the spring.
Late-summer training does not have the same ring as spring training.
As A. Bartlett Giamatti famously wrote, “The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone.”
As much as the weather concern makes sense and as much as we would all love to be watching games right now, there is something so special about the first sounds of gloves popping in the spring while the trees are still bare and the flowers yet to bloom.
There is also the built-in New England toughness of braving chilly days and shoveling snow off the diamond so you can play.
Kids from Florida will never know the pain of getting jammed and having an aluminum bat vibrate back into your frozen hands but continuing with batting practice.
Kids from up north wear it like a badge of honor.
“It’s spring in New England, you expect this weather,” Darien coach Mike Scott said. “We played early spring baseball in college and we would joke that anybody could go down south and play ball but it took a special kind of ball player to come up and succeed up here. We would shovel off the field and play in 40-degree weather and have games with snow flurries. We thought of it as an advantage over teams from the south.”
Scott then posed the biggest obstacle regarding baseball as a fall sport.
“How would you do it with football?” Scott asked. “There are so many guys who are two sport athletes who play football and baseball. Unless you are going to let them play two sports? It wouldn’t be fair to those kids and some of our best players the last few seasons have played football.”
While sports specialization is a much bigger thing than it was 20 years ago, and while some baseball teams have no football players, it would be a major problem for those that do.
“They will never change that because football is so powerful,” McMahon coach John Cross said. “There are not even that many kids that play both anymore. There are not that many sports in the fall so it could make sense but then you are going to run into November and they will be playing in 40-degree weather in the championship and who wants that?”
That is the last point, the weather for the most important games would start resembling the weather we have at the beginning of the season, now.
Yes, it would be better for preseason and yes less games would be lost to postponements but by the time we get to June and the playoffs, does anyone ever think about the crummy weather from April?
People get frustrated with the nature of the weather here, especially those in charge of scheduling and rescheduling games, practices, buses and umpires but moving baseball to the fall is not the way to go.
Get your shovels, rakes and field-drying mixtures and get out there and make those fields playable like generations of New Englanders have done before you.
When we are all sitting at Palmer Field in June at the state finals, this snow that fell in April will be but a distant memory.