The weather is negatively impacting the baseball and softball seasons.
That should come as no surprise to anyone who has battled the western New York weather this winter.
For the most part, practices have been limited to gymnasiums and now, with games already being canceled, the weather has begun to wreak havoc on the regular season.
OBSERVER?Photo by Jeremy Izzio
Dunkirk’s Al Stuhlmiller Field is just one of many area baseball and softball fields that remain unusable due to the amount of precipitation western New York received during the winter and early spring.
The U-14 Boys Concord travel soccer team members shovel to make space for a practice Sunday afternoon at Dunkirk’s Karl Hoeppner Field.
OBSERVER?Photo by Jeremy?Izzio
The Fredonia softball field, like many other fields in the area, remains under water and unplayable.
While teams have been practicing inside for over a month, there is only so much they can do with the limited space they are given.
"It's hard to do certain things where you need extra room such as cutoffs and fly balls," Fredonia softball coach Joe Pucciarelli said. "It's impossible to do those things in the gym."
"The quality of baseball once the season starts will be what you can accomplish inside and what can transfer to outside," Silver Creek baseball coach Mike Janisch said. "You can't really put anything in other than a base defense and what you are supposed to do when. Not a whole lot transfers from the gym to the field."
The majority of the teams in the area have been able to get outside once, maybe twice so far this preseason. Even with the weather beginning to break, the field conditions are so poor the teams have been limited in what they can accomplish outside as well.
"We have been able to get outside and use the outfield, but we have to jump over puddles in the infield," Janisch said. "When the wind is blowing at 35-40 mph it makes for some excitement trying to hit fly balls."
"I walked out onto the infield the other day and sunk down three inches," Brocton softball coach Jeff Franze said. "We don't start until a week from (today), unlike baseball, so we have time still. Baseball and softball in western New York are strange sports. I can't remember ever having many outside practices before our first game and remember one year where our first outdoor event was a game."
The Dunkirk baseball and softball programs have had the luxury of using the turf football field, which is a benefit the other schools in the area don't have.
"The fact that we can get out and do live pitching and live batting practice is definitely somewhat of an advantage," Dunkirk baseball coach Frank Jagoda said. "It will certainly be a little bit of a jump start for us."
Both Dunkirk teams were also able to get in a scrimmage last Thursday on North Collins' turf fields.
As more games begin to be canceled due to weather, the backlog of games will start to build. At some point, those games will be added to the existing schedule and will take a toll on the teams.
One area that the added games will affect most will be the pitching staffs of the baseball teams.
"Most of the time, at a smaller school, you don't really have a lot of pitching so you end up throwing somebody who may not be quite as good and it ends up being quite different than what really good baseball should be," Janisch said. "But everyone is in the same boat so you just go with the flow."
To combat this issue, many teams, including Dunkirk, have begun preparing more pitchers than they would normally use during the regular season.
"At practice we have been trying to get guys ready to throw," Jagoda said. "I have actually had 11 of my 12 guys throwing so that hopefully we have enough arms to get us through it."
Softball pitchers benefit from the underhand motion so strain on the pitching staff isn't as big of an issue, but for teams that are already thin at pitcher it still presents another obstacle to navigate.
"You don't have as much strain with the softball pitchers; they can go all day," Franze said. "I am lucky and have a couple of really good pitchers, but a team with only one, you are looking at three league games a week once we get started. It will be very hard."
Luckily, the weather has begun to break and warmer temperatures seem to be creeping into the forecast, but that doesn't mean the fields will have time to dry before the regular season for both baseball and softball gets underway.
"In my opinion, no one will be playing until after Easter with the way the weather has been," Dunkirk softball coach John Sliwa said. "I was outside the other day and the fields look OK, but even with it being 60 degrees Tuesday the fields won't have a chance to dry out."
Once the regular season begins, the effects of spending the vast majority of preseason indoors will be seen during the first few games.
Only so much of what teams can work on indoors will transfer to the field once the season beings. As a result, the quality of the sports often suffers early on.
"In the gym you always get a true hop, but on the field that's certainly not the case," Pucciarelli said. "Especially after a winter like this one. They might not even have a chance to roll the fields before we get on them. All of a sudden you are on a field that hasn't been rolled and you get all types of crazy hops."
As some coaches have pointed out, there are positives that come from being limited to inside practices. It gives the coaches a chance to focus on certain aspects of the game without the distractions of the field as well as helping to create a bond between the players due to their constant close proximity.
"One advantage of bad weather is that you get to work with your pitchers a little bit more," Sliwa said. "We can spend a lot more time with them because there is so much more time to spend when inside. Sometimes being outside can be a distraction because all the kids want to do is play ball. It's actually been a blessing in disguise."
"I think being inside is a little better for bonding purposes," Pucciarelli said. "Our girls have been going and doing things together, whether it's going to dinner or to grab an ice cream cone. So that's been a nice part. The bonding process has definitely sped up with being cooped up inside."
Warmer weather appears to be just around the corner. It has been a tough winter for western New York and just like everyone else, the athletes are chomping at the bit to get outside.
Playing ball in the coming weeks will be a challenge for everyone involved, but no matter the difficulties of scheduling, pitching rotations or field conditions, warmer weather and the chance to finally get outside again is something that everyone is looking forward to.