By BRADEN LAYER
---- — Through all of March and even into early April, Mother Nature has reared her ugly, and downright chilly, head.
In what was the fifth coldest March on record for the Effingham area, many local teams were forced to cancel multiple baseball games or try to reschedule them for later dates.When teams have been brave enough to take the diamond, long sleeves and all, pitchers have taken the mound with temperatures in the 30s. Add in the wind chill, and these gunslingers are hurling fastballs as spectators sit under as many layers as they could drag from their cars. Others choose to skip that step entirely and just remain cozy as they take in the game from behind the windshield.No matter what the case may be, players have undoubtedly been affected by the wintry playing conditions."It's really difficult on pitchers," Dieterich coach Jamie VanScyoc said. "To go out and have that type of temperature, and really be able to compete at a high level, it's tough to be able to go long into games with the temperature being like that."For the Movin' Maroons, March's difficult playing conditions forced them to cancel six games, and VanScyoc said that while he's actively looking to reschedule a few of those, they may be more trouble than they're worth."It's difficult for us when you get into playing three, four games a week," he said. "With a small school district, we have only 16 kids on our entire roster, we're going to get into some pitching problems." The regular rigors of playing multiple games a week already impacts smaller schools like Dieterich, and playing more than a handful of games to make up for lost time puts these limited rosters at a severe disadvantage.While larger teams have a stable of capable pitchers they can turn to when they're playing a fifth game in as many days, local teams struggle to match that kind of pitching depth."You start running out of arms," VanScyoc said. "You have to start throwing kids that you normally wouldn't. It puts us at a little bit of a disadvantage, putting a kid on the mound that doesn't quite have the experience that the older guys that do pitch regularly have."Though VanScyoc admits that pitching has been impacted by the harsh temperatures, he said that doesn't necessarily mean that scoreboards are being lit up with runs.
Batters have to combat the weather as well, they're not just free to pepper the outfield with easy line drives."Hitters, in the other regard, anytime they make contact, you feel it in the hands," VanScyoc said. "It's difficult all the way around."Adding to the struggle is newer equipment that isn't designed to withstand sub-freezing temperatures. "It seems like the bats and the ball don't bounce as much in the colder weather," VanScyoc said. "These bats aren't supposed to be used below 50 degrees."As the season progresses, VanScyoc realizes his squad may run into some trouble finding enough arms for enough innings.
Neoga coach Ted Kerner said this thought has crossed his mind as well, but he's employed a strategy that will help his team overcome a game-heavy schedule."I'm all for playing everyday," he said. "When you're playing six or seven games (a week), you need to start preparing JV guys to pitch. We were working 18 on the mound in preseason practice."Kerner said he's fortunate to have enough bodies to play a sizable JV schedule, a luxury other area coaches like VanScyoc don't have, allowing younger players to develop and get ready for varsity action.
That way, when the time does come when the Indians are strapped for a pitcher, they have plenty of arms they can call on."We just got done with this long stretch, and I used 10 or 11 pitchers," Kerner said. "Three or four were freshmen. You've got to be ready when you do get backed up in games, you have to have enough guys to cover it."Only time will tell how the weather will alter coaching plans and pitching arms in the long run. Then again, the cancellations may not be finished. Neoga has been forced to cancel seven games already, and weather forecasts are calling for thunderstorms all the way through Thursday.With the potential for a fresh new set of make up games on the horizon, Kerner's entire team may have to chip in on the mound.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org