There was a strange sight at McKeague Field Sunday afternoon.
On a April day, with the season three weeks old, the Douglas and Rapid City Central baseball teams were practicing ... outside.
It's been a long and hard winter throughout South Dakota, and it's led to widespread postponements for the varsity baseball teams in the state.
Douglas and Central have played one game out of the five that were scheduled to be completed at this point of the season. The Patriots had a game against Mitchell scheduled yesterday at 2 p.m., but snow on Friday made the trip impossible for the Kernels.
Central had to postpone games against Pierre and Mitchell over the weekend, and Rapid City Stevens and St. Thomas More also had to postpone games. The Raiders have played two of their seven games, while the Cavaliers have played one of the three games they had scheduled.
"It's hard because the kids get bored. They get bored with the indoor drills, they get tired of not being able to throw long toss and hit the ball on the field, they get tired of having to walk through snow to get to our hanger so we can hit. It’s tough to keep the kids motivated and focused about baseball," Douglas coach Josh Wright said.
"We’re bored as coaches. As coaches we’re trying to figure out how to keep it interesting and how to keep it fresh, when it’s not interesting and it’s not fresh. It’s redundant, elementary drills back and forth."
The rescheduling has also been havoc-inducing for the players. Both Wright and Central coach Ray Puhlman said they have players who are balancing school, work and baseball, meaning one slight change can have a big impact on a kid's schedule.
"It’s hard. I’ve got kids who go to school and work almost full-time jobs. We try to make it a little light-hearted as much as we can and still get some things taken care of," he said.
And the relief might not be coming anytime soon.
More snow is in the forecast for the east side of the state this weekend, which could derail travel plans for the Patriots and others.
A Saturday doubleheader against Brookings has already been called for Douglas, so Wright said the Patriots are looking to head south to face Yankton. Unfortunately, the weather forecast doesn't look good there, either. Sunday they have a doubleheader scheduled against Mitchell, which could also be in jeopardy.
"The kids are smart, they know the forecast and the chances of our big trip across the state is probably a bust," Wright said. "They all pay to play because it’s a club sport. We’re trying to get games in and the weather isn’t cooperating."
Getting games in is also an issue with the standings. This season the league is switching from a district system to a power point system similar to what is used by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, despite baseball being a club sport in South Dakota.
Last season, games against teams in your region mattered the most, and there were 8-10 of those games per season. Under the new system, Stevens, Central and Douglas will have to play 12 games against Class A teams, and they have to play different teams.
Both Wright and Puhlman said this has been the longest winter either one has seen. Wright has been coaching the Patriots for five season and Puhlman has been involved in area baseball for 15 seasons.
In addition to the boredom and juggling schedules, Wright said it's hard to get a feel for what a lineup is going to be when the team is constantly being moved inside to practice.
"A kid can crush a baseball in the batting cage, but until he has a kid throwing 70s at him, with curve balls coming at his face, you don’t if the kids can play well or not," Wright said. "It’s really tough to put a lineup together when its all cage work and tee work."
Pitching rotations have also been feeling the wrath of the cold and snow.
"It bunches things up, when you only have four or five pitchers, you’re throwing a lot of younger kids, freshman and sophomores, and you just never know how they’re going to react," Puhlman said.
Still, Wright and Puhlman have been trying to put a happy face on a spring that has allowed for very little baseball. Partly because there's no team in the state that doesn't have to deal with it.
"The hardest part is not getting time together to jell," Puhlman said before a brisk Sunday evening practice. "We’ve only been on the field a handful of times, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get some field time."
"Everyone around the state has kind of embraced the suck and tried to make it happen," Wright said after his team finished Sunday practice. "I’m getting bored, today was the funnest day we’ve had in three weeks, and we just (scrimmaged)."
Douglas and Central are scheduled to play Tuesday at McKeague Field at 7 p.m.