BANGOR, Maine — Record-breaking low temperatures buffeted by chilling northwest wind gusted over fields of play blanketed by a deep, hard pack of snow — not exactly ideal conditions for the boys of summer as the last full week of March commenced.
“It was really cold,” said Justin Courtney, a senior pitcher for the Bangor High School baseball team. “Walking up from the student parking lot to school this morning I did not think baseball at all. I was thinking middle of the winter, hockey season, and definitely not starting pitchers and catchers.”
And while little snow had melted, the wind remained brisk and temperatures rose moderately under bright sunshine, pitchers and catchers nevertheless anxiously gathered in gymnasiums around the state after school Monday to begin a weeklong preseason arm conditioning program they hope will pay off later this spring after Mother Nature inevitably brings warmer conditions to the outside world.
“Once the sun gets warmer, even on these cold days those places that can get the direct sun will melt,” said optimistic Bangor coach Jeff Fahey at the school’s Red Barry Gym. “And once Mansfield [Stadium, the Rams’ home field] is bare of snow, barring rain we’ll be on it probably four days later because it drains so well.”
High school baseball and softball teams are allowed to hold a week of preseason workouts limited to eight pitchers and two catchers in advance of full-team tryouts that begin next week.
“Basically it’s a wake-up call,” said Courtney, a right-hander who will pitch at the University of Maine next year. “It’s springtime now, you’ve got to start getting prepared. Coach Fahey and [assistant] coach [Dave] Morris do a great job preparing us for the season, especially this week with a lot of one-on-one time working on mechanics and the stuff you need to set the foundation for the season. I think this is the perfect week for it.”
Pitchers and catchers will engage in a variety of arm-strengthening drills and also make a modest number of throws each day this week from a variety of distances within the gymnasium.
“It’s mostly conditioning, getting back in shape and getting everyone’s arm loose,” said Bangor senior catcher Hunter Boyce. “It gives people who are expected to have a spot on varsity an extra week under their belts before the season gets going.
“And it gets you motivated for the season even before tryouts get started, so I think it’s a good idea.”
Perhaps an equally significant benefit of the arm-conditioning week is the relationship developed both within a pitching staff as well as between pitchers and catchers.
“We get a little bit of leadership started, a little bit of camaraderie, a little conditioning and we just get the kids into that baseball mindset,” said Fahey. “For us, the leadership part is always pretty important, and as a pitching staff and catchers they build a pretty unique bond this week.”
While pitchers and catchers this week and full rosters beginning next week will be relegated to gymnasium workouts until the weather allows, many coaches see that indoor experience as a good thing — at least for a while.
“I just feel there’s so much we need to do and teach during the first two weeks that it doesn’t matter if we’re inside or out,” said Fahey. “At the same time, it’s a lot easier to teach some things inside because you’re not trying to fight the wind, and I don’t care how warm it is during the day, 4:30 in the afternoon at Mansfield in March or the first of April is still cold.
“We’ll just take advantage of the time we have inside and when we get outside, we’ll get outside.”
Though the lingering winter conditions — along with the prospect of a midweek Nor’easter that may drop several more inches of snow on eastern parts of the state — make the possibility of playing outside seem a long way off, the regular season is less than a month away.
Teams may play their season openers as soon as April 17, though most will wait until the following week before playing countable contests.
Bangor, which finished 12-5 last spring in Eastern Maine Class A, is slated to open its regular season April 25 at Oxford Hills of South Paris before playing its first home game against Mt. Blue of Farmington three days later.
Courtney, for one, expects this season to start on schedule for the Rams just like nearly all its predecessors.
“Once we get started into this routine of practice after school with pitchers and catchers, we’ll go on from there and things will fall right into place,” he said. “We’ll be out on Mansfield in no time.”