There is a theory that champions are made in the offseason. Normally baseball and softball teams get one chance at building themselves up in the offseason and out-working their opponents.
This season is anything but normal.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the United States and now in Alabama, the AHSAA has suspended play for baseball and softball teams around the state. If the season is allowed to continue on, how teams handle this break in the action will likely determine who is holding that blue map at the end of the year.
Coaches are not allowed contact with their teams over the break and so that puts the onus on individual workouts at home.
“We are kind of hamstrung as far as what we can do with them,” Smiths Station baseball coach Mike Ferry said. “Basically we can’t do anything with them.”
“When you’ve got a kid at their house, they don’t have the resources that we have at the school,” Ferry also explained. “They don’t have a batting cage in their backyard in a lot of cases. If they can’t go anywhere or those type of places are closed, they pretty much have to be creative.”
Beulah softball coach Stan Pepper says the key to the rest of the season is trusting his players to get that work in.
“I’ve got softball players,” Pepper said. “They love the game of softball, they play travel-ball, and I actually have to tell them, ‘Hey, you need to rest.’… I have full confidence that when we come back, we are going to be right where we are right now.”
Beulah softball had planned to play its entire area schedule in one day with all the teams visiting Beulah and playing the round-robin schedule today. That can’t happen anymore today, but Pepper expects a similar arrangement as soon as they can manage it when teams are allowed to retake the field.
While softball can manage the condensed schedule with pitchers able to throw in multiple games, baseball and its pitch counts are more difficult to manipulate and get multiple games in quickly. Having multiple pitchers in a condensed area schedule will likely become more important than in normally is when you can one up your ace to match up with area opponents.
Ferry is one of the few coaches with an abundance of college-level arms to throw at teams, but he admits it isn’t that simple when it comes to planning for a condensed schedule.
In the preseason, coaches are allowed to work with their pitches to get them ready for the season, but with no contact allowed, it will be more difficult to make sure that a player’s arm is ready for the grind of the season.
“The state gives us a three-week throwing period at the beginning of the season to get our arms ready, and that is for health reasons for our pitchers,” Ferry said. “Now we are going to take a three-week break, and if these kids don’t throw, if they don’t keep their arms in shape, it is like starting over from day one again when we come back.
“It is a safety issue. It is not healthy for these kids. I’m fortunate here. I’ve got four that are on my pitching staff that are committed to Division-I schools right now. By no means am I going to be the person that does something stupid with them and takes away that future from them by pushing them too fast and hurting their arm.”
Beulah baseball coach Michael Courson is worried about the health of his players too, but he is more concerned that they might over-work themselves looking for that edge during the break. He wants his team focused on being the best they can be when they take the diamond again, and for that to be the case, that means they are healthy.
“You can still work on your individual game,” Courson said. “And here is another thing you can do: Rest, rest, rest your arm. Get healthy and then just stay healthy. Stay prepared. Do things that you need to do individually to help our team win.”
No player is going to handle the downtime the exact same way, but the team which can adapt and come back primed to play — that team stands the best chance of making that postseason run they will spend the next three weeks dreaming of.