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Weather affects coaches’ best plans

Not many coaches are put in the type of predicament of a high school baseball coach in northeast Ohio.

With unpredictable weather and a season that’s basically a month and a half, coaches are practically preparing for the postseason from Day 1. Sure, coaches and teams in all sports have one eye on the playoffs from the outset, but things are quite different in baseball.

You’re all but guaranteed to play every one of your games in other sports, so you can lay out a detailed plan to set up the best possible recipe for success. Coaches can start with the basics, find their flaws throughout the season while gradually increasing the intensity of workouts and the complexity of their gameplans.

Whatever route they want to take, they can. No, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but at least they have options. When it comes to baseball, it’s a different story, and only the best coaches adjust and discover ways to improve their teams.

Again, it’s not easy. When your schedule relies on pleasant Ohio weather, it’s like you’re relying on the internet not to spoil Game of Thrones (Arya ain’t no joke, that’s all I’m gonna say). The unreliability of the weather can make life as a baseball coach miserable. They can copy a book by Tommy Lasorda, pick the brain of Terry “Tito” Francona and use those old Tom Emansky videos to train, but if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, it’s all pointless.

Parking lots and gymnasium floors usually have more baseball played on them than the actual fields in April. Mushy outfields and puddle-covered infields are the arch nemesis to players and coaches, but that’s where the best coaches find ways to adapt.

Some spend their offseasons fundraising, so they can venture off to Myrtle Beach for spring break to play in tournaments and stay sharp. Others must be a little more creative. One coach told me he’ll have his pitchers play H-O-R-S-E, but not with a basketball. If one pitcher steps on the mound and hits the outside corner, then the next one has to do the same, or he earns an H.

Some others like to go back to the basics, which makes sense during those rain-saturated weeks where a team might not play a game (right now, for example). Using tees and soft toss may seem remedial and boring, but it can fix a broken swing.

The inconsistent climate is part of what makes the postseason so much fun. It shows who can adapt, and who can find ways to make the most of an erratic regular season. Granted, some teams have an advantage with indoor facilities, but for the most part, the weather affects everyone the same. Blaming the weather is an excuse that falls on deaf ears.

The drawing for the postseason happens Sunday, and there are quite a few area teams who have legitimate shots at district titles. In Division I, Austintwon Fitch has enjoyed a strong year, even without their ace pitcher, Kenny Misik, a lefty who’s a YSU recruit but was injured prior to the season. The Falcons are 15-5 and should be a high seed in the Division I Canton District. Boardman is another contender as they handed the Falcons one of their two conference losses.

In Division II, Canfield, the reigning district champ, is again the favorite in the Struthers District with a 14-3 record. They’re without a doubt one of the area’s elite teams. There is plenty of competition in D-II, though, with Niles, Poland and Hubbard all capable of stringing together a postseason run.

The Division III Niles District is top heavy with with Champion and Grand Valley as the leading contenders, but an improving LaBrae team could make some noise along with a few other middle-of-the-road competitors.

Division IV may be the most intriguing. In the Fairport Harbor District, Mathews is having another banner year and is likely the top seed, but there are plenty of challengers. Maplewood, which upset the Mustangs in last year’s tourney, is always a tournament darkhorse. Bristol is having a solid year, and Fairport Hardbor has a long, successful tradition.

The D-IV Struthers District is similar. There are two favorites in John F. Kennedy and Springfield, two of the Mahoning Valley’s best teams, but there are contenders like McDonald and Lowellville that have good enough pitching to upset either one.

Whoever comes out on top, their coaches and players deserve a lot of credit. The monotony of practicing indoors is challenging and takes discipline — and creativity. You can rest assured the soon-to-be district champs were focused, even when Mother Nature was ornery.

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