Coon Rapids was set to finally open its high school baseball season Thursday, with star pitcher Logan Shore taking the mound in the weather-protected Metrodome. The 11 p.m. start time owed to the stadium’s huge popularity with high school and college teams escaping what many coaches are calling the worst run of spring weather they’ve ever seen.
But the game against Prior Lake was canceled due to travel problems from Thursday’s snowstorm. Not even a roof can fend off the wintry spring of 2013.
Nearly four weeks after they began practice, many high school teams have yet to take the field for a game, meet, match or round — let alone step outside to practice. What few games have been wedged in have been played in cold, miserable conditions.
Thousands of games have been canceled statewide. Top athletes have missed chances to impress scouts and attract college attention. Seniors see their final seasons slipping away. At many schools, athletes paid hefty activity fees for what has so far been mostly gym time and now the prospect of shorter and fewer games.
As coaches and athletic directors frantically reschedule games into fewer remaining weeks, some teams have had to dig deeper to pay for expensive indoor practice facilities or have made do with such activities as golf putting in classrooms.
Tom Franta, the girls’ track and field coach at Irondale in New Brighton, said his assistant coach Bruce Moore “has been coaching or participating in track for 51 years and he said that he has never seen anything like this.”
For Kara Stuckmayer, this is supposed to be the year she gets noticed. Stuckmayer, who plays third base for Champlin Park and has loads of potential as a power hitter, has high hopes for a senior season that she believes can be a breakout year. If the Rebels ever get the chance to play, that is.
“This being my senior year, I obviously want to play hard and do great,” Stuckmayer said. “This weather has put a little stop to that.’’
St. Louis Park pitcher Ryan Froom, a South Dakota State University recruit, is worried that his final high school season is slipping away. “It’s extremely frustrating,” Froom said. “This isn’t the way you want it to end.”
St. Francis shot put and discus thrower Maggie Ewen, who will compete at Arizona State University next year, has spent much of the spring throwing into a net in the gym. “It’s not the same as outside and it’s taking a toll mentally,” she said.
Shore, one of Minnesota’s top Major League Baseball pitching prospects, said that he has had bullpen sessions with pro scouts watching him and that he is trying to stay positive. “Obviously I’m dying to get outside to playing games,” he said.
Salvaging seasons safely
Athletic directors from conferences across the Twin Cities metro area have met to devise ways to salvage the season once the weather improves. The Missota and the Classic Suburban conferences have mandated doubleheaders for softball and baseball. The Northwest Suburban wiped away half of the league season, reducing the schedule to 10 games.
Those changes might not be enough. Frozen fields still need to dry out. Spring weather, even under more normal circumstances, is unpredictabe. Some coaches worry about playing almost daily games and risking injuries from overuse, most notably to baseball pitchers. “The possibility of injuries increases with a heavier load on our pitchers,” said Brian Wright, coach at Breck in Golden Valley.
This week, the Minnesota State High School League took the unusual step of releasing recommendations for schools to mitigate the effects of the weather. They include scheduling doubleheaders in baseball and softball, shortening golf meets to nine holes and emphasizing Saturday play. The league also suggested that teams play even after they are eliminated in the playoffs and make up games through the final day of the state tournament.
Through it all, practice goes on. Gyms are full as teams vie for space. Teams have sought out domes and indoor facilities, which come with a price tag not all are happy to pay.
Tim Roche, who coaches boys lacrosse at Eastview in Apple Valley, lamented paying $1,400 for a pair of two-hour training sessions at local domes. ““It makes me sick to spend that money on field time, but we just have no choice,” Roche said.
For every top-level athlete who hopes to compete after high school, there are scores of players on junior varsity teams and below who are the biggest concern for many coaches. With varsity teams using every possible makeup day, athletic departments are worried that there will be no time for younger players.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Mounds View tennis coach Mike Cartwright. “The JV kids pay the same participation fee. They should have as good an experience as the varsity.”
Coaches are tapping into creative ways to keep their players interested.
At Fridley, girls’ golf coach Pat Barrett developed the “Truffle Open,’’ a classroom putting tournament in which the winners get truffles.
At Rockford, softball players have gotten immersed in a game based on team handball that uses a softball and gloves.
Apple Valley’s boys’ and girls’ track teams have taken to Zumba workouts. In Brooklyn Park, Park Center baseball coach Shannon Blansette has his team playing mock games in the batting cage.
“At minimum, it keeps practices energetic and competitive,” he said.
Staff writers David La Vaque and Jason Gonzalez contributed to this report.