Spring sports too often at the mercy of weather

This isn’t sunny Arizona — or California.

This isn’t sunny Arizona — or California.

And Safeco Field, with its retractable roof, isn’t available until late May when the Class 4A state baseball tournament is scheduled there.

Because of that, I find myself feeling sorry for local baseball and fastpitch coaches around this time of year. After all, rain isn’t a concern for teams that compete in the winter — basketball, swimming and wrestling — because their events are held indoors.

The weather doesn’t matter with soccer unless there’s lightening. South Kitsap boys soccer coach Eric Bergeson actually seemed to relish the pounding rain Thursday at Gig Harbor. Why not? Justin Moore washed away the Tides with a goal to earn a 1-0 win with 4 minutes left.

Tennis teams also are vulnerable to the weather, but they at least can replicate similar conditions by practicing inside. That’s not the case with baseball and softball.

Batting practice is different because the pitcher is throwing off a flat surface in the gym instead of on the mound. That means hitters don’t have the opportunity to practice against breaking balls they’ll see against the league’s top mound talent.

Pitchers also are affected by the layoffs and lack of time outdoors. How does one refine a curveball if he has no idea how it will break?

What happens when those nonleague buffers are rained out? The result often isn’t pretty, especially for inexperienced staffs quickly forced into league play. Both the South baseball and softball pitching staffs can be described that way.

The weather also adversely affects team defense, which is particularly important to teams with inexperienced pitchers.

While at least some form of hitting and pitching can be conducted under a roof, there’s no way to simulate defense indoors. Sure, teams can practice taking ground balls off the floor, but it’s not anything close to what a third baseman will see on game day. There’s no way to replicate a 90-mph fastball smacked directly at third base while indoors.

It’s no wonder some teams look flat early in the season and even the best pitchers find themselves out early with the score 15-10 in the fifth inning. It also makes for a frustrating scenario for coaches, particularly when parents increasingly scrutinize every move made in high-school sports.

Perhaps it’s time to look at the schedule. No one wants sports running through graduation or finals week, but there’s some room toward the year of the school year, especially with it ending later than a decade ago. South Kitsap doesn’t get out of school until mid-June, which is similar to many schools in the state.

The state tournaments are slated for May 23-24. Why not push those back those back a week or two, even if it means moving state back from Safeco Field to Cheney Stadium? A later start means better weather with more games in April and May, rather than March, and an opportunity for more practice outdoors.

It also means staggering the state tournaments. In the present setup, state baseball and softball are the same weekend as boys soccer and track and field. That contrasts with winter, where wrestling and swimming are held before basketball. It gives more attention to the individual sports and their athletes.

And for spring sports, it provides better conditions and experience. After all, that’s what it should be all about.

Chris Chancellor can be reached at 876-4414 or by e-mail at www.sports@portorchardindependent.com.