Scott McKinnon slid into the snowbank to retrieve a wild pitch. The Chaminade senior catcher scrambled to his feet, slipping to one knee before correcting himself, to make the potential throw on an advancing runner. He wisely held the ball.
This is Northeast baseball in March. Snow-covered venues, subfreezing temperatures, dangerous field conditions.
And we’re told player safety is of the utmost importance. Yet we start in unacceptable conditions every spring.
Why don’t our administrators stand up and act? Why doesn’t someone make the push to move the start of spring sports back two weeks?
It makes sense. Some athletic directors are scrambling to find all-purpose turf fields every year just to get started. Coaches are missing valuable practice time and are unable to get outdoors to get prepared for the season. Why the rush?
The regular season currently ends May 10 — why? We have all of the month of May to play the regular season in beautiful spring weather. Instead, we trudge through brutally cold winds, rain and snow and bear the brunt of Mother Nature’s wrath. For what?
More than 60 percent of Long Island’s teams are done playing May 11. Why does the schedule end? It ends to start the postseason and send one team from each classification upstate for the state tournament.
Why not eliminate the state factor and play through May and schedule the playoffs in sunny June with the best-of-three Long Island baseball championships?
State exams are in mid-June. Graduations are in late June. Proms are in June. What’s the conflict?
Right now, the winter season is concluded and the spring season is already in full bloom — but it’s not. The weather has been an increasing burden the past few years.
McKinnon, who went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and led Chaminade to the win over St. Dominic, was asked about playing in early spring.
“We’re forced to adapt to the conditions,” he said. “It’s different when you navigate snow, but we’re learning to play through it. We just want to get there and play.”
On one particular overthrow, McKinnon scrambled into the snow in front of the St. Dominic dugout and couldn’t find the ball. “One ball got by first base and everyone was pointing around and it just blended into the snow,” he said, laughing. “Luckily I dug it out.”
Pitchers had other difficulties that day in the 38-degree temperatures with a real feel of 30 at Cantiague Park in Hicksville.
“It was impossible to get a grip for my curveball, really any breaking pitch,” said Chaminade starter Logan Koester, who earned the win. “I couldn’t feel the seams of the ball, it was just too cold. But you have to battle through it.”
About 34 miles east, Patchogue-Medford hosted Ward Melville at the Medford Athletic Complex. Neither team could play on its home field after the fourth nor’easter of March dumped more than a foot of snow across most of Suffolk.
“The warning track was snow-covered and you knew you were near the fence when you hit the snow,” Patchogue-Medford coach Tony Frascogna said. “The umps agreed to let us play and if the ball went into the snow, we had to go get it and it was a live play.”
In the first inning, Patchogue centerfielder Justin Fren tracked a fly ball into the snow and needed to navigate his way through the terrain to make the play.
“We have to be consistent in our philosophy about safety in sports,” Frascogna said. “We put in pitch counts to save arms, and that was good. And now we’re forced to pitch in 30-degree weather and elements that are not conducive to safety — so we’re not consistent. We’re coming out of the gym, having not thrown outside, to play these early games and it’s just too cold.”
The state mandated a pitch count only a year ago as a safety precaution in an attempt to curb the widespread abuse of pitchers and the exponential growth of Tommy John surgeries. How about we have a conversation about pitchers throwing in the less-than-ideal weather conditions experienced every March?
Patchogue-Medford got on its home field for the first time for practice on March 28. The team already had played two Suffolk I games.
“Ultimately, what would be best would be to move the season back and have a conversation about what’s best for Long Island,” Frascogna said. “There are postgraduate finals in other states. Why not back the season up? It affects minimal teams while allowing the maximum number to play in acceptable weather.”
Some teams such as Calhoun brought shovels instead of bats to practice in order to clear their batting cages and field.
“It was a Saturday morning requirement for practice to bring a shovel. It was kind of bizarre,” Calhoun coach Artie Canestro said. “We used it as a team-building exercise. But the ultimate goal was to get a practice in, or we’d be back in the gym again.”
Welcome to the spring sports season on Long Island.