After the lost spring of 2020, baseball and softball finally returned to Maine high schools on Monday.

Because last spring’s sports season was canceled after the onset the coronavirus pandemic, it has been 21 months since high school baseball and softball teams have officially gathered for a practice.

“It’s great to be back but it feels like lifetimes ago,” said York senior softball co-captain Meg Bachelder.

In York, where portions of the Wildcats baseball and softball teams were working out together at the Seacoast United inside turf facility, the sweet sound of rawhide smacking against leather gloves filled the domed bubble.

Monday was the first day for teams across the state to begin a week of throwing and conditioning. Full practice starts next Monday for baseball, softball and other spring sports. Games can begin April 15.

The reality that a sports season is starting on time is almost difficult to grasp. Because of gathering limits, both York teams had to split their squads, but that didn’t decrease the enthusiasm.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” shouted York co-head coach Chuck Chadbourne.

For junior baseball outfielder Hayden Henriksen, the best part of Monday’s practice was simply “getting out here and seeing everybody.”

A three-sport athlete, Henriksen has had three straight seasons of real competition squashed – baseball last spring, football in the fall, and then indoor track.

“I haven’t played on a York team since last track season. Yeah, it’s been over a year,” he said. “I mean, I did indoor track this year but this is the first time I’m going to be playing with a York team in actual games. Which is crazy.”

Since they last gathered for a high school spring sport practice, a lot has changed. Now players routinely wear face masks, because the virus is still infecting about 200 people in Maine on a daily basis. Teammates have graduated and moved on without a proper on-field goodbye. The current seniors were sophomores the last time they had a school-sanctioned workout.

“Some girls we haven’t seen in two years. And we have two classes we’ve never seen. It’s almost like we have two freshmen classes,” said York softball coach Kevin Giannino.

If they played fall or winter sports, the athletes saw shortened, restricted seasons in response to the pandemic. This spring the plan is to have the season start on time, have a full schedule, and the Maine Principals’ Association will sponsor statewide playoffs. Moms, dads, friends and casual fans – socially distanced and hopefully content to follow local directives – are even expected to add to the relative return to normalcy.

“It’s definitely not normal yet. Nothing’s normal yet. But it feels a lot closer. It’s a lot better to be out with your friends,” said York senior pitcher Josh Gennaro.

A year ago, said Morse Athletic Director Nate Priest, “We were all anticipating the worst, that we would be canceled. Now the kids are back at it. There are a lot of happy kids and happy coaches here right now. We haven’t been able to do any spring sports for 22 months. To say that everyone is excited would be an understatement.”

The Shipbuilders were outside on Monday, practicing on the school’s new turf field located behind the new high school.

Thornton Academy’s baseball and softball pitchers and catchers also were outside on the turf at Hill Stadium, and those at Windham “found a patch of grass somewhere on campus” to start their practices, according to Athletic Director Rich Drummond.

But most schools were inside, trying to let the fields dry a little more. Noble Athletic Director Aaron Watson spent much of Monday removing tables and chairs from the gymnasium – which is being used as a cafeteria – so his kids could practice inside.

“We’re ready, the kids are ready,” he said. “We feel great about the protocols and everything we have in place … Everything is good and ready to go.”

Watson said that he is hopeful they can get through  the season without many disruptions.

“We’re extremely excited to talk about a normal season,” he said. “Though, honestly, I don’t even know what normal is going to be anymore.

“But above all else,” he continued, “the kids need this. (The pandemic) is going on 12 months now. It hasn’t been normal. What we’ve had has been good, not necessarily perfect. But now I feel we’ve been given this chance to have a close-to-normal spring season.”

Windham’s Drummond said he has noticed a different attitude among the student-athletes since word dropped that the spring season would proceed. “I just had (senior baseball pitcher) Brady Afthim leave my office,” said Drummond. “I hadn’t spoken to him in a long time so I was just checking on him. He was grinning ear to ear. He’s a very happy kid.”

There will be challenges, Drummond said. “We’re going to have some ups and downs,” he said. “But we’ll get through it.”

South Portland softball coach Ralph Aceto was just happy to be able to see his players again. They last played on June 8, 2019, a loss to eventual Class A state champ Scarborough in the regional semifinals.

He has several players back from that team, including pitcher Mia Micucci, now a junior.

“It’s exciting to be out there again,” he said. “I don’t know what the season will entail or what kind of obstacles we’ll run into, but with this group of girls, the way we finished two years ago, I was hoping to build off of that last year and I’m hoping to build on it this year.”

In 2021, there is reason to believe hope really does spring eternal. And simple things like throwing a ball and being part of a team can be realized.

“I’ve been thinking about it all the time and just imagining us being normal again. Because I really missed it a lot,” said York junior softball catcher Savanna Hanscom. “I think I took it for granted before and now it’s just a privilege to come back here and play.”

“Practice is already starting. Fans are going to be at games. Hopefully some playoffs,” said Luke Doughty, a junior infielder/pitcher on the York baseball team. “It’s looking good. I’m pretty optimistic. I’m looking forward to it.”


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