Unplayable baseball diamonds keep local teams inside

While the Baltimore Orioles are celebrating Opening Day today, the Catonsville baseball team has yet to have a first practice or game on its home field since practice got under way on March 1.

“We’ve never had bases in and we’ve never run on the field,” Catonsville coach Rich Hambor said. “We’ve never taken a ground ball where the first baseman could step on first base.”

Fields all over the area have been unplayable.

Dirt has become mud and dry outfield turf has morphed into lumpy potholes of grass on baseball fields — when they aren’t covered in snow.

The Comets, who lost in the Class 4A state finals last year, played their first game on March 24 at Franklin High and lost, 5-4.

“There was at least one year when our first game was the first time on the field,” Hambor said. “But, after that, we were good. But, this is even beyond that. We played our first game and we still haven’t been on our field.”

The Comets were up 4-0 after four shutout innings thrown by senior John Klein, but the coach pulled the ace after 60 pitches and the Indians responded with five runs in the fifth.

“It was 25 degrees,” Hambor said.

Hambor, an 1989 graduate of Fairport Harding High, is familiar with nasty springs because of his high school playing days along Lake Erie, 30 miles east of Cleveland.

“We would have days where we would go out there and use push brooms to  get the snow off the infield,” he said.

His coach Mike Mohner, who is still coaching there now, has even softened a bit, amidst a cold spring in Ohio.

Hambor relayed a twitter message from his old coach.

“He said, ‘Practice is at 4 o’clock, you are allowed to wear stocking caps to practice instead of baseball hats because of the weather, but we are still having baseball practice.’”

Practice at Catonsville High can get monotonous in the gym, so Hambor has mixed it up by having workouts at 6:30 a.m.

Asked what they do for fun, he said, ‘We don’t have practice.”

Thanks to assistant coach Doug Campbell, who was the head coach before Hambor took the job, the Comets have indoor and outdoor batting cages to get some swings.

They also practice throwing and fielding indoors, albeit without the crazy hops caused by the lip of the grass or pebbles on the dirt.

“You can do some things, but you can’t simulate everything inside,” said Hambor, who noted outfielders suffer the most. “Defensively, that’s the roughest.”

Their no wind and the ceiling isn’t high to simulate fly balls — and the gym isn’t big enough for a long throw.

Teams having to share gym time with softball teams have even resorted to practicing on parking lots and tennis courts.

Hambor insists his team is fundamentally sound, so they should progress quickly once they get on the field, but finding new things to do on a daily basis has been tough.

One day, he had his team practice setting up the home run fence on the field — in under 10 minutes.

“We put in little nuances, but there is nothing new right now. Every kid has been around,” Hambor said ““We’ve just got to play.”

Lansdowne High played its home opener on the same frigid day as Catonsville and they combined for 30 runs in an 18-12 loss to Dulaney.

That was the fifth time they have been on the field since practice got underway on March 1.

They were supposed to host Loch Raven on March 26, but a wet snow two days earlier nixed that.

The snow was off the field, but it was still soft and the Vikings had already slopped through an early-season scrimmage on a spongy field at Lansdowne Middle School.

“We forced ourselves to have a scrimmage that day, but the field was mushy that day,” Viking coach Matt Kohel said. “We do what we can to get out there, but we don’t want to destroy the field or risk injuries.”

Lansdowne’s scheduled opening game at Catonsville High has been postponed twice. The second time the forecast called for nice weather, but it rained.

“We spent that day throwing, stretching and then putting the (home run) fence up,” Kohel said. “By that time, we were done, so we really didn’t get a chance to do too much.”

Fortunately, on the day the Loch Raven game was postponed, they moved inside and they had the entire gym and wrestling room, where the batting cages are stored, all to themselves.

“We have more facilities than a lot of other people,” Kohel said. “The cage has been a big help. We try to get them in here as much as we can.”

After five canceled scrimmages in early March, Mount St. Joseph’s Jody Harris was excited for his first trip to Myrtle Beach as the new Gael head coach.

“It rained the whole drive down and it rained the drive back,” said Harris, whose squad played two of the three games in driving rain and had the fourth canceled.

Western Tech first-year softball coach Talia Lemus probably wished his team’s  23-6 loss at Sparrows Point had been rained out instead of being played next to a body of water in sub-freezing temperatures.

“It was so bitterly cold the girls couldn’t field the ball or throw the ball,” Lemus said. “I think they were thinking about the cold instead of the game.”

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