Kolten Barker, a senior pitcher and shortstop on the Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial baseball team, could have been speaking for every baseball player – as well as every spring-sport athlete – in Minnesota when he made this statement Tuesday: “I think a bunch of guys are really disappointed.”
He was talking about the miserable weather that has harassed, delayed and played havoc with spring sports. The baseball teams from Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Maple River enjoyed a respite Tuesday afternoon by playing their season opener inside the vast expanse of the Metrodome. The game was scheduled by the coaches months and months ago, which turned out to be a pretty smart move.
“(LCWM coach) John Madsen and I have been around for quite a while,” said Maple River coach Randy Olson. “Last year we were saying, ‘We always get that first game delayed so why don’t we just play it up here?’ ”
The fee to use the Metrodome is $500 per hour, which includes use of the scoreboards and public-address system. But there is no shortage of teams on the high school and college levels from Minnesota and other states who have reserved time at the indoor ballpark.
Tuesday’s schedule began at 6 a.m. with a college doubleheader between St. Cloud State and Minnesota Crookston, followed by the Maple River-LCWM game, Henry Sibley vs. St. Paul Highland Park at 4 p.m., a game between Wisconsin high schools Menomonie and New Richmond at 7 p.m., and finally a 10 p.m. game between Maple Grove and Watertown-Mayer.
Baseball teams in the upper Midwest have few other options. There are a handful of outdoor fields that have artificial turf, but this spring’s bone-chilling temperatures make that a less-than-enticing proposition.
Minnetonka High School baseball coach Paul Twenge, whose school has an artificial turf diamond, said, “I’ve been here for seven years and we’ve only had this happen one other time, and that year it was snow. This year it’s the cold.”
Twenge receives several phone calls and emails a day from high school and college teams that would like to use the Skippers’ field. “You totally understand what they’re going through,” he said.
Here’s some even worse news: If spring weather in 2014 and 2015 are similar to 2013, there will be no indoor places to play baseball. The Metrodome will be demolished after the Vikings finish the 2013 season, with a new stadium next door to the dome not opening until 2016.
Temperatures are predicted to warm up in the days ahead, which would provide much-needed relief for all the baseball, softball, track, lacrosse, tennis athletes and golfers who have been patiently practicing indoors.
The Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial baseball teams – both schools are southwest of Mankato -- have been working out inside their gyms, on tennis courts and anywhere else they can find some dry ground.
“It’s been tough.” said Maple River senior shortstop Michael Lewis. “(Monday) was actually the first day we got out on the field. It was still pretty squishy and we were basically playing at about 70 percent. It’s just been tough. You can only take so many cuts off a tee; we need to get out and play.”
Maple River senior third baseman and pitcher Jeremiah Ennen said he was “very excited, very grateful to have this opportunity” to play in the Metrodome. “It’s pretty spectacular.
“It was kind of discouraging to just keep going in the gym and going in the gym,” he said. “To be in here, it just looks huge. We haven’t really been able to get a feel for the outside, the weather, the space. Having a nice environment to play in, where it’s not blowing and cold with snow blowing around, is pretty nice.”
Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial has enough gym space to work on infield drills, hit in a batting cage and use live pitching. Madsen said he checked on the Knights’ field Monday evening, trying to gauge how long it might be before the team can practice and play outdoors.
“Everything was pretty firm,” the coach said. “We have a little bit of snow on the warning track in left field and I don’t know how much frost has come out of the ground. We haven’t had any snow for about a week.”
After Tuesday’s game at the Metrodome, all baseball eyes in Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial were looking to Thursday’s weather. That’s when the two teams are scheduled to play again … on the Knights’ field.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Madsen said.
--To see a photo gallery from the game between Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 556
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,789
(*During the 2012-13 school year)