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updated: 3/20/2014 5:35 PM

Area baseball teams point the compass south

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  • St. Edward's Jack Tierney taps his helmet with teammate Michael Castoro during a regional game against Aurora Christian last year.

       St. Edward's Jack Tierney taps his helmet with teammate Michael Castoro during a regional game against Aurora Christian last year.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

So the high school baseball season started in Illinois on Monday?

Get out of town.

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No, seriously. If teams expect to play baseball games anytime soon, getting out of town and away from the frozen tundra of northern Illinois is a virtual must.

Every coach I spoke to this week while putting together the baseball preview issue for Fox Valley area schools said his field has at least two feet of frozen ground beneath partially thawed topsoil. One coach suspects his field might be frozen four or five feet deep in the wake of the Chicago area's harshest winter in decades.

That's a lot of permafrost, which can bubble up from the ground on spring days as it thaws and cause a baseball field to become wet and unplayable on otherwise sunny, dry days.

Even under optimal seasonal conditions -- and the subfreezing low temperatures forecast for the next week are hardly optimal -- most area baseball fields would not be ready for play until late next week.

Realizing its entire schedule of spring break games was about to bite the dust due to unplayable fields, Dundee-Crown scrambled this week to put together a downstate trip. Thanks to some of athletic director Dick Storm's contacts in Quincy, the Chargers were able to arrange 4 games. They will play Monday and Wednesday at Quincy and Tuesday at Quincy Notre Dame. D-C will travel Thursday to Lenz Field and Sports Complex in Jacksonville, Ill., to take on Barrington. That complex boasts six outdoor, all-turf fields.

"If we didn't do that, who knows how long we'd have to sit and wait to get a game in," said second-year D-C coach Jon Anderson, who led the Chargers to a Class 4A sectional title game appearance last season.

The Chargers aren't the only area baseball team migrating south. Eight of the 15 baseball teams in the Fox Valley coverage area will travel to warmer environs in the next two weeks to get games in, including St. Edward and Larkin, who will play each other in Jacksonville on Sunday.

Elgin Academy, intent to make a mark this year in its return to varsity baseball for the first time since in seven years, heads to Disney World to play 6 games between March 31-April 1.

"I think it's a huge advantage," said Elgin Academy coach Steve Shapiro, who played baseball at Barrington and Saint Louis University. "Our guys will come back with 30 to 40 at-bats under their belts while the teams we face will be trying to find their rhythm."

Cary-Grove and Jacobs both travel next week to play spring break games at Rent One Ballpark in Marion, Ill. The defending sectional champion Golden Eagles will face Warren, Wauconda, Vernon Hills, Pleasant Plains and Rantoul.

Cary-Grove begins its trip on Monday with a split doubleheader (field conditions permitting) at Oswego East and LaSalle-Peru. The Trojans then head to Marion for games against Pleasant Plains, Murphysboro and Normal.

"It's good for us to get away and get some games in," said 27th-year coach Don Sutherland, whose field is usually playable earlier than most because it is built on fill and, therefore, drains quickly. "I told our guys to be ready for a bunch of rescheduled nonconference home games when we get back."

Burlington Central installed sprinklers in its field two summers ago but has barely used the system due to consecutive wet, cool springs, coach Kyle Nelson said. The defending Big Northern East champs won't have to worry about field conditions when they compete on turf in 4 varsity and 3 junior varsity games from March 31-April 5 against teams from Kentucky at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, SC.

The Ripken Experience Complex, which opened in 2006, according to its website, has four regulation fields designed to replicate the dimensions of classic ballparks like the Polo Grounds and Griffith Stadium. In fact, Lenz Field in Jacksonville is modeled after the Ripken Experience Complex, according to the Lenz Field website.

"Myrtle Beach sounds like fun until you realize you're responsible for a team of teenagers," Central coach Kyle Nelson said. "But it should be a great way to get the season started."

New Westminster Christian coach Brance Rivera will show the Warriors his old stamping grounds in Texas via a bus trip that begins Saturday. Rivera played for and graduated from TCU in 2012, and he coached at Dallas Baptist as a volunteer assistant last year. He will take Westminster Christian to both college fields for games against Texas schools on Monday and Wednesday and play a game at a Fort Worth high school on Tuesday.

On their way home next Friday, the Warriors will stop in Washington, Ill., where they will offer their services during the day to the reconstruction effort in the tornado-devastated town. They will end the day and their spring trip with a game at nearby Eureka at 4:30 p.m.

Overall, it sounds like the area's southbound teams have a solid plan to escape the cold.

Now if I could only convince our editors that we should be covering those games in Orlando, Dallas, and Myrtle Beach.

Heck, I'd settle for Quincy.

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