Baseball, softball practice greeted by icy temps

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Last week, a groundhog in Pennsylvania saw his shadow and indicated six more weeks of winter lay ahead.

On Monday, the ping of aluminum bats and the slap of horsehide against leather gloves said differently.

Baseball and softball teams from the Mississippi High School Activities Association held their first official practices on Monday, a month later than in previous years and three weeks before the first games are played. The shortened preseason has forced coaches to adjust their routines.

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“We’ll go longer in practice,” Warren Central coach Josh Abraham said. “It’ll be tougher on the boys. Longer practices, more days in a row. But these boys are mentally tough and physically tough. They can handle it.”

Previously, practice for spring sports began the first week of January. A new MHSAA rule changed that, however, ostensibly to allow more athletes an opportunity to play winter sports.

The lost month posed a serious challenge for baseball and softball players whose skills are often honed through the repetitions of January. It also raised concerns about the possibility of injuries among pitchers who haven’t had time to get their arms in shape. Most players threw on their own in January, but Abraham said coaches will still be cautious.

“It’s going to cause coaches to be a lot less aggressive with pitchers early in the season. We made it a priority to get their throwing in,” Abraham said. “We’re going to have to baby their arms. You’re not going to see many pitchers go over 60 or 70 pitches the first two weeks of the season. We’ll probably keep them around 50 or 60.”

Warren Central and Vicksburg High have an athletic activities period at the end of the school day that has allowed coaches to work with players. Vicksburg assistant coach Mark Hughes said that small amount of time is as much a curse as a blessing, though.

“When you’ve got 55 minutes for a period, by the time they get down here and warm up you’ve got 30 minutes. That’s real unproductive when you only get that three times a week,” Hughes said.

With field time limited, most coaches have given their players a program to follow on their own.

St. Aloysius coach Clint Wilkerson said all of his players have thrown on their own after school, as well as taken batting practice at the team’s indoor practice facility on Clay Street. When he’s been able to work with them at school, the focus has been on classroom instruction and weight training.

Wilkerson credited a strong senior class — there are seven senior starters returning from last year’s Class 1A championship team — with getting the team ready to hit the ground running once it was able to get on the field Monday.

“Thank goodness this came along when I had a group of seniors who knew exactly what we needed to do this time of year,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson’s main concern wasthe Flashes’ defensive skills. The first two weeks of practice are typically spent on defense before shifting to hitting. With a condensed preseason, he’ll have to cram more into a short period of time. Like Abraham at Warren Central, that will probably mean longer practices and fewer days off.

Wilkerson admitted he wasn’t a fan of the new start date, but like all coaches was trying to adjust as best he could.

“It is what it is,” Wilkerson said. “It’s not the best situation we ever had, but there’s no use crying over spilled milk.”

Contact Ernest Bowker at