A year ago, opening day for high school pitchers and catchers offered the rare treat of throwing outside. There was no snow and the temperature was warm enough for the players to go outside.
This year, however, it was back to the norm Monday as pitchers and catchers from around the state were in familiar gym settings on day one. It was 38 degrees outside, snow was still on the ground with a depressing 12 inches or more of snow predicted for Tuesday. They’ll be in the gym for some time.
The Maine Principals’ Association allows baseball and softball pitchers and catchers a week’s head start on the positional players. It allows them to gradually build their arm strength. Many pitchers, though, have been throwing all winter at indoor facilities. Teams are allowed any combination of 10 pitchers and catchers.
While it was a bonus to get outside last year, it doesn’t change the regimen.
“We stick to the basics,” said South Portland baseball coach Mike Owens. “We go over pitching mechanics. We do arm exercises with a lot of band stretching. We’ll work on covering first.”
Portland High Coach Tony DiBiase and pitching coach Wes Ridlon had their pitchers throw from 45 feet at three-quarters speed.
“We concentrate on mechanics and location,” said Ridlon. “We want to make sure they’re hitting their spots. We gradually increase their velocity as the week goes along.”
Caleb Fraser and Nate Smart are veteran pitchers for the Bulldogs. Both have thrown indoors all winter so their arms are in good shape. Still, they take it slow.
“The goal is to get your arms and legs in shape,” said Fraser. “This week allows us to get a head start. Everything starts with pitching. It’s the most important thing on a team. We did exercises and different throwing routines.”
The Bulldogs finished their first day of practice with a 2-mile run outside, something they will do after each practice.
At McAuley, softball coach Robbie Ferrante has two returning starters – Taylor Whaley and Sam Libby. They pitched all of the Lions’ games last season and will again this season.
Softball pitchers can throw harder and longer than their counterparts in baseball because the arm motion is a lot less stressful.
“I was very excited for this day,” said Whaley, a sophomore. “I got up early and was thinking about practice all day.”
Whaley was more than prepared. She plays on a travel softball team, the Maine Thunder, and with the exception of a few weeks out of the year, does something either related to softball or to help in her conditioning such as running cross country in the fall.
“I’m always pitching or hitting to get better,” said Whaley. “I’ve added more velocity and I’ve developed a rise ball which I’m excited about trying in games.”
Whaley was throwing close to full speed in the gym. Ferrante knows going into the season that he will have two strong arms he can count on. He expects the team to improve upon last year’s 6-10 finish.
“We should have good pitching and defense,” he said.
The sound of balls hitting mitts was heard in gyms throughout Maine. The pop will get a little more pronounced as pitchers loosen up their arms as the week goes along.
Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: