Last week’s unseasonably warm weather and a snowless March have given high school baseball and softball teams an opportunity they haven’t had in many years — being able to go outside on the first day of practice.

Today is the opening day for pitchers and catchers around the state to start their preseason workouts. Teams are allowed to have eight pitchers and two catchers practice the first week. All other players will join them starting March 29.

Several baseball and softball coaches, while marveling at the recent weather, said they will likely keep their pitchers inside the gymnasium for the first few days.

“You can work on a pitcher’s mechanics better (inside) because it’s a controlled environment,” said Tony DiBiase, the longtime baseball coach at South Portland.

Depending on the weather (rain is forecast for today and Tuesday), coaches said they might take their players outside for some long toss, a technique that loosens up arm muscles while building strength.

The fact there is even talk of going outside this early is quite unusual. Even though Saturday was the first day of spring, Maine high school teams are accustomed to staying in the gym for the first two or three weeks, sometimes longer, because of snow and cold.

“Four seasons ago, we went from the gym to our first game of the season,” said Scarborough baseball coach Jim Cronin.

“We had a ton of snow and we were in the gym practicing for four weeks. Our opening game was against Deering at home, but our field wasn’t ready so the game was switched to Hadlock Field, which was ready because of the Sea Dogs.”

Cronin said that if it isn’t raining and the temperature is in the 50s, his team will go outside this afternoon, at least doing some long toss.

Tom Griffin is entering his 21st season as Scarborough’s softball coach and said he has never seen weather like this.

“This is crazy,” he said. “I’ve had seasons where the field has been ready early, but it’s been too cold. This year the field is ready, and it’s warm, nice weather to be playing outside.

“Usually this time of year, it’s cold, muddy, and you’re looking to get out.

“I’ve never been in this situation where you’re looking at getting outside on the first day of pitching practice. Usually you don’t get out until April 1 at the earliest.”

Still, Griffin will keep his pitchers and catchers inside, as will Pete Walker at Gorham.

“I’m not so foolish that I don’t know what Mother Nature can do,” said Walker. “I’d rather be indoors with a controlled environment where it’s warm than be outside.”

DiBiase said the last time his team was able to practice outside on the first day was in 1981, when he was the Gorham coach.

“I remember it well,” he said. “We had just finished practice and when we got back to the school, someone said that (President) Reagan had been shot. It’s kind of a macabre way of remembering it.”

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]

 

— Staff Writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story