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It’s beginning to look a lot like … baseball

A bundled up Randy Broome calls out instructions to his Warren Central baseball team on Monday. Public schools across Mississippi, despite near freezing temperatures, opened baseball practice. (Jenny SevcikThe Vicksburg Post)

[1/6/04]On a frigid, windy winter day in January, the boys of spring took to the field for the first time.

Vicksburg High and Warren Central held their first official practices of the 2004 baseball season on Monday, the first day they were allowed to do so under Mississippi High School Activities Association guidelines.

The conditions on Monday temperatures in the 40s and a brisk north wind kept dreams of warm spring nights in the distance, however.

“When the wind is blowing out of the north and it’s 40 degrees, baseball is not fun,” Warren Central coach Randy Broome said. “But hopefully coach (Jeff) Wood and I can keep it intense and keep it on their minds.”

Broome took his Vikings out on the field for some running and physical conditioning on Monday, while his counterpart at Vicksburg, Jamie Creel, opted to give his players’ minds a workout.

Creel spent about an hour in front of a dry erase board in the VHS fieldhouse, diagraming bunt coverages and defensive responsibilities for the Gators. Afterward, they took a few cuts in the batting cage before calling it a day.

“There’s not anything nice about this weather we’re facing now. It’s miserable,” Creel said. “You can’t use it as a waste of time. You come in and teach it on the board, and it cuts down on your teaching time on the field.”

Although Creel and Broome staged slightly different practices on Monday, their agendas and schedules for the next six weeks will be very similar.

Both coaches plan to focus on fundamentals and conditioning as they prepare for their season-openers on Feb. 21. Informal workouts have been held during each school’s activity period since classes began in August, but that has mainly been limited to stretching, throwing and running. Now, the real work begins.

“The first three weeks, we’ll be putting everything in. The last three weeks, we’ll be conditioning, scrimmaging, and working on game mistakes,” Creel said.

While Creel and Broome got their first good look at their players, St. Aloysius coach Joe Graves will wait a few days.

His team won’t have its first practice until Wednesday because of teachers’ meetings. The Flashes’ pitchers and catchers will begin working then, with the rest of the team coming together as the soccer and basketball seasons end for the Class 1A school.

Graves said a lot of his older players have been working out, however, and are familiar with the preseason routine.

The season opens Feb. 21, with all three local MHSAA schools on the road. Warren Central is at Oak Grove, VHS plays a doubleheader against Starkville and West Point in Starkville, and St. Aloysius is at Natchez High.

Porters Chapel Academy, which plays in the Mississippi Private Schools Association, begins play Feb. 23 at Tri-County and hosts University Christian on Feb. 26.

All three public school coaches will also try to fill in some holes in their lineups.

Graves has to replace five starters from a team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs, including ace pitcher Jason Brown and big-hitting outfielders Charlie Amborn and Walker Hengst.

The next generation of players at those positions is young. St. Al only has four seniors on the roster, and the junior varsity team outnumbers the varsity 20-14. Graves admitted there was some work to do to keep the Flashes at a playoff-caliber level, but didn’t write this season off as a rebuilding year.

The biggest question for WC is its pitching staff. The team lost three of their top pitchers from last season, Jeremy Ferguson, Greg Carroll and Andrew Simmons.

VHS has no such problems. It returns most of its pitching staff including left-handed fireballer James Jackson and is the favorite in Division 6-5A.

“If you call having two or three freshman starters, three sophomores and two juniors who never played before being the favorite, it’s a lot of weight on us,” Creel said. “We have a young group of kids. They’re very talented and they have the skill level to be very good. Our pitching is going to be what holds us in there.”