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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)
EVANSVILLE — Isaiah Dunham was camped out near third base. The senior fielded a routine grounder and quickly put his foot on the bag to get the lead runner before firing the ball to first to complete the double play. Dunham couldn't help but let out a yelp of excitement as everyone in the Reitz Bowl...
The Reitz Bowl? That must be a mistake. The Panthers play football there and not baseball, sir.
But the above paragraph is true. Dunham fielded the ground ball and turned two during a baserunning drill Monday. And the practice occurred on turf.
That's because the Panthers have not been able to get on a grass field in a month.
"The only grass that we have been able to get on is the football practice field at Barker," said Reitz coach Todd DeWeese. "It isn't even in question to get on the field anymore."
The toughest opponent for most teams this spring? Mother Nature. That cruel, tricky mistress has caused coaches — especially in baseball and softball — around Evansville to get creative with practice time.
To be fair, the weather is always going to be an issue when it comes to outdoor sports. Rain this time of the year isn't something new or a sign of an impending apocalypse. But according to coaches and parents, the weather has never been this bad to begin the season.
Not even close.
As of Tuesday evening, it had rained 15 of the last 17 days in Evansville. The outlook for the rest of this week appears promising but everyone knows that could change. After all, this is Indiana.
"It would be nice if you were a duck," Memorial baseball coach Rip Collins said. "Everybody is in the same boat. You are just trying to scramble around and figure out where we can practice."
With the copious rainfall in recent weeks paired with the below-average temperatures, the fields are simply not suitable to use. Some places are seeing standing water in the outfield.
If they are lucky, players can at least be outside and spend an hour on the football turf. There, they can run drills and get a simulated feeling of playing the sport. But then you also run into field availability, and the dimensions are never right.
The other alternative is to be indoors. No one wants that.
"Before we never had the opportunity to be on turf," said DeWeese. "It was just inside in a gym hitting or at our hack shack. At least we have this opportunity. We haven't had a spring like this in the five years I have been here."
Teams are also running into an issue with cost. A bag of diamond dry isn't cheap and it certainly takes more than one to get a field ready in these conditions.
With each cancellation or postponement, you need to factor in the loss of gate receipts and concession sales. It has been frustrating for everyone involved.
"This is probably the sixth time we have been on the field all season," Harrison softball coach Sara Loete said Monday. "That is what is so difficult. Spending the money to get the field ready. We can put out bags of diamond dry but each bag is expensive. That is an additional thing that the kids have to (raise money) for."
The Warriors have been lucky in the sense that they have four games under their belts. But those came on a trip to Tennessee the weekend before Spring Break. Even then, the games were cold and wet.
Memorial baseball has stepped on the field for a game just once prior to Wednesday. That contest with Henderson County was called due to rain after a single at-bat. There are some programs that haven't gotten a game in yet.
"It has been pretty miserable," said Loete. "We got four games in barely and we had to practice inside every day last week. We have four conference games this week and we are already looking at rainout dates. It is a nightmare."
That is the next hurdle facing every team. Conference games take priority but the number of available dates continues to shrink. The sectional tournaments begin in late May, so you also have to think about possible injuries and overuse of pitchers in a condensed schedule.
Of course, the players are anxious to get back on the field. The coaches are doing the best they can to keep them mentally focused and ready.
"We have been outside maybe four or five times," said Collins. "You try to simulate as much as you can. This is adversity and we talk about that all the time in sports and baseball. You have to be able to come out and be mentally tough even though it is this situation."
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