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Article updated: 4/11/2013 6:56 PM

This spring, teams can't buy a break

By Patricia Babcock

April showers bring May flowers, but they also bring headaches to high school athletic directors and coaches.

The schedules of the sports teams that make their homes outdoors in the spring have been turned upside down over the last month. First it was the snow and extreme cold that cancelled games and practices and kept teams inside. Now, it's this relentless rain that seems to be on the forecast well into next week.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Antioch baseball coach Paul Petty, who is in his 21st season. "It's ironic because last year was the best I've seen it. We had that really mild winter last year and it warmed up right away and we were outside early.

"Right now, we're 2-2 (as of Thursday) and we should have about 10 games in at this point. Not only that, we should have had a lot more practices outside by now. We spent the first four to five weeks of this season inside every day."

And while all is not lost by taking grounders on the gym floor, nothing replaces the dirt of an infield or the grass of an outfield. Especially for younger more inexperienced players, who need to see the speed of the game in true, game-like settings as much as possible early in the season.

"It just helps so much to be outside," Wauconda coach Bill Sliker said. "I've always said that the IHSA should look at a different schedule for baseball, maybe pushing back the season and ending in late June. Or, since we also play a summer schedule, maybe we combine the two seasons or play one or the other.

"It's hard to be inside so much, but you do the best you can. We just try to switch up what we work on, keep our pitchers working in a rotation, get a little bit of hitting in and then we pick one piece of the game that we'll work on each day. The other day, we did base-running inside. It's not the same but you just try to work on the parts of the game that you can."

Another alternative is to leave town for a while.

Every year during spring break, more and more teams from Lake County are heading south or west for warmer temperatures and better playing conditions. Some teams, such as Mundelein, make annual trips to southern Illinois. Libertyville has been going to Arizona for the last 10 years and Grayslake Central has made playing at Disney World's Wide World of Sports its tradition for the last several years.

Thanks to its trip to Florida, the Rams already had 11 games under their belt as of Thursday.

"Since we went to Florida, we're down only three games at this point because of the weather," Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. "We saw some great competition down there like we always do, and that helps us start off strong."

Sliker, who hasn't left the area for Spring Break in recent years, says he is seriously looking into it now. Ditto for many other coaches who haven't yet pulled the trigger on a trip due to logistics and budgetary issues.

"It's more than just a trip to play games, there's a lot that goes into it," Sliker said. "It's a lot of work, but I've never been against a trip, though. I guess I've just been like everyone else. You never know what the weather will be like here. The weather could be fine here.

"Like last year, we were able to get outside and play every day over spring break. But this year this year is the year I wish we had gone on a trip."

More than baseball:

Getting in games isn't the only reason Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen loves spending his Spring Break in Florida. He likely would organize an annual team trip even if he coached in a state in which bad early Spring weather wasn't an issue.

"For us, the Florida trip has always been a great opportunity for the kids to come together," Whalen said. "When you have a team of 20 kids, you know they're not all going to be best friends. But when we go to Florida, we arrange things so that the guys really get to know people they don't know as well, and pretty soon, you see guys who run in their certain groups adding more kids to their group.

"I think that's such an important part of building a strong team. When you're playing a sport not just with guys but for them, it really means a lot more. When you feel as much pain as the guy who struck out or when you feel as much joy as the pitcher who just got a strikeout, that's a real team."

Good from bad:

There is a silver lining to all the rain clouds in Lake County so far this spring. At least Antioch coach Paul Petty has managed to find one.

His top two pitchers, David Meade and Jerry LaSaint, have benefitted from the increased time they've spent working closely with pitching coach and former Antioch star pitcher Chris Malec.

"The spring training period has been so long that those two have really benefitted from the extra time in bullpen sessions," Petty said. "All the charting they've done and all the work with Chris has been really helpful so far. It's been a bonus. I think that extra time they've had to prepare could really help them in the long run, too."

It has helped so far in the short run. Meade is 1-1 with a big win over Grayslake Central and LaSaint looked tough on the mound against Grayslake North despite getting tagged with a 2-1 loss.

"They've both started out pitching very well. I almost kind of feel like they're in late-May form already," Petty said of Meade and LaSaint. "Their control is very good, they're throwing strikes. They'll be key for us this season."

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