By Pete Chiodo
March came in like a lion all right. But the beast has overstayed its welcome, with April approaching and the outdoors still looking a lot like Christmas.
Not the best conditions for throwing fastballs or digging out grounders (although sliding into home would still work ... pretty well, in fact).
However, there are a few area baseball and softball teams that were thinking ahead as they booked trips to sunnier climes to start the 2013 season.
“We’re glad to be going somewhere,” said Saegertown’s head softball coach Mark McKissock. He and his Panthers will be flying out to Cocoa Beach, Fla., on March 27, where they will pack in four games and one scrimmage in five days while the Panthers’ JV squad will also play five.
“We want to get innings, no doubt about it,” said McKissock. “Beyond that, we aren’t going to do a whole lot of traveling or sightseeing. We’re there to play softball and to get to know each other as a team and bond as a team.”
Getting familiar will also be one of the main goals for the Meadville baseball team and its first-year head coach Bruce Stewart. Today, he and the Bulldogs will hit the highway for Gaffney, S.C., where they will play three games over three days while the JV squad will also get in a pair.
“Yeah, I’ve only seen a couple of my players actually play ball,” said Stewart. “I’m looking forward to getting outside with them. We’ve been in the gym for so long.”
It’s not just the on-field ability of his team that Stewart is hoping he’ll learn more about during the trip. He’s also hoping to glean just who his players actually are as people.
“It will definitely be nice to get to hang out with these kids besides two hours of practice,” he said. “We’ll get to know them a little better. These kinds of trips can really help the camaraderie of a team.”
So, Stewart a first-year head coach. And Meadville — which finished 10-9 and made a playoff appearance last year — is going to be a fairly young squad. So this team-building process will be an important aspect of the trip.
The bonding process is also important for the Saegertown baseball team. But these Panthers know each other pretty well by this point, graduating just one senior after last season’s 23-2 finish, which included a District 10 championship and a run to the state quarterfinals.
So when the Panthers hit the road to Gaffney, S.C. today, they are also looking to give themselves a test on the playing field.
“We’re playing South Park and (Taylor) Allderdice,” said Saegertown coach Tim Crum, whose team is scheduled to play four games over three days beginning with South Park and Taylor Allderdice on Saturday in Hickory, N.C. “We project those two to be two of the better teams we will play, not taking anything away from Meadville or Hickory.”
Saegertown plays Hickory (out of Hermitage) on Sunday and Meadville on Monday.
“We want good competition,” Crum said. “We want to be put in pressure situations and see how we handle it. We want to execute, pitch well, be efficient from the mound. We’ve spent a lot of time together and have seen a ton of pitches already through open gyms. Now it’s time to put that into a live situation and see how effective we can be.”
These trips down south weren’t just thrown together at the last minute. In some cases, the trips spent a year or more in the planning phase.
“We were thinking about it last year. It just didn’t come together,” said McKissock. “We’ve always wanted to go somewhere, but the first two years we concentrated on just getting our feet on the ground. We did think about it last year, but couldn’t put it together. At the end of last year we got the parents together and said, ‘This is what we are thinking.’”
After that came the process of raising funds for the trip.
“The community has supported us tremendously and the parents worked their butts off … and the kids too,” McKissock said.
Crum said it will cost the baseball team close to $7,000 to make its trip south. All of that money is raised through the boosters.
“We have a great boosters group,” Crum said. “All are very willing and involved. The district is not asked to pay anything.”