Inside Pitch Magazine, January/February 2020

The Change Up: Winning the Winter

Ball in SnowMany high school and college baseball programs are forced to deal with inclement Winter weather in preparations for each season. Here’s some advice from top coaches on how they handle that challenge: 

"You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt. Once the season gets going, it can be hard to stop and start. In baseball, you really just have to be able to get out there every day. Stopping and starting like that can get pretty old, but we deal with it, it’s the reality of the situation.

40 degrees and sunny with no wind really is pretty manageable. The wind is the main thing that can change the comfort level of the game. Thankfully a lot of us have turf, so it’s just 3-4 days until you’re ready to go.

A lot of kids want to go south and get away from the weather, which is always a recruiting disadvantage. We address to everyone that we’re going to have to play in some unseasonable weather, and you have a choice whether to pick the program that values you and fits your desires or make weather the deciding factor."

– Ed Blankmeyer, former St. John's University

"With our climate, we need mentally tough athletes. We play in some cold and nasty weather, far from what you envision baseball to be, and we are up front about that. We need athletes that know what they are getting into and in some ways thrive in it. We know that scouts will come and see us and our guys will get a lot of exposure. Scouts love how mentally tough our guys are, they love watching games where our guys are not affected by weather at all."

– Joe Spano, Mercyhurst University

"On practice days, we just ask, ‘Would we play a game in this?’ We always have the safety of the players in mind but at the same time, you see big league pitchers on multimillion dollar deals running out there in similar elements.

I think turf is a huge player. It really allows us to get out on wet days or chillier days, turf seems like it can withstand colder days than natural surfaces. I tease the players because they get to run around in it, I don’t feel sorry for them! Once they get the blood flowing, they’re good. It’s the poor coaches, the parents and the fans who are just standing out there!"

"There’s also that toughness factor in that mindset and now we have a lot of Midwest kids. I think they’re just more used to it. You can also look at big league baseball, with the Twins just having built an outdoor stadium; so if they’re playing outside in March and October, we need to be able to play in it.

So ultimately there’s a mindset to it. We have a philosophy/rule that you’re not allowed to look cold. I’ve always preached that. If one guy has his arms crossed and he’s shivering, he makes you feel cold and the next guy looks cold, before you know it, you got 30 cold dudes! As coaches we’re always working on the mind, the power of the mind, believing you can do something – so you’re never allowed to act like you’re cold!"

– Dan McDonnell, University of Louisville

"Coach [John] Winkin might have been the first person to write a book on indoor baseball practice. It’s really a function of time space and whatever your philosophy is on how you prepare your team. I believe very strongly that you should practice every part of the game every day, if even for five minutes. We try to organize indoor work in that’s pretty much the exact same thing we’d do outside. We are fortunate to have a tremendous indoor facility, where we can play live games on turf."

– Bob Whalen, Dartmouth College

"Jokingly, I think a more accurate question for coaches in Wisconsin might be what strategies we implement when we HAVE to go outside! I try to keep our indoor practices fast-paced and short, much like a basketball team practice would be. Five minutes on this; five on that; and then move on to something else. Of course, when those cold or wet days occur, I always insert some fast-paced, fun game into the work of the day."

– Tom O’Connell, 51-year high school coach in Wisconsin; Former ABCA President; ABCA Hall of Fame; 2019 Lefty Gomez Award recipient

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