The spring is a weird time to be an athlete here at Bates. The main reason that this is true is that Maine is so cold that we label our semesters “fall” and “winter” rather than “fall” and “spring,” like most schools. Getting a chance to finally get outside on a field is very difficult for the spring teams, particularly those who don’t regularly use artificial turf fields. The baseball and softball teams usually don’t get onto their fields until April or even short term.
Because of these unfortunate circumstances, several of the spring teams at Bates take trips in the spring somewhere warmer so that they can actually be outside and play the game the right way. The baseball and softball teams go to Florida, the women’s lacrosse team goes to New Jersey, etc. all to seek better weather and playable fields.
These trips are important for players to get practice and for coaches to truly evaluate their new team every year.
“Baseball just isn’t the same in the Gray Cage,” team captain Jack Arend ’20 said. “Going to Florida gives us an opportunity to practice getting reads off batted balls. Even just getting to practice is huge because we get a feel for being outside on a real diamond. It’s nice to get our spikes dirty.”
“Playing games against other teams is great because it lets Coach Martin see guys in real game action so that he gets a sense of what this year’s team is going to bring,” he continued. “Then we also know what we need to work on when we get back home and have two weeks off just practicing indoors again.”
The trip is especially unique for the baseball team because (as Arend mentioned) they play five games down south over February break to then return to Lewiston and take two weeks off from playing games. This makes their training trip feel even more like a preseason trip and not a part of the season that counts towards their final record.
Additionally, the NESCAC does not allow spring teams to begin official practices until February 15, but the Bates February break typically begins between February 16 and 19. This obviously doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for the team to prepare before they have to hop on a plane and head down to start competing.
The situation is very similar for the softball team, which travels to Florida at the beginning of March and has nearly three weeks off from playing games upon returning home.
With Bates being located as far north as it is, there really isn’t an alternative option to doing these training trips. Conference play starts at the very end of March for baseball and softball, so they need time for their players to develop before they’re thrown into high-intensity conference games.
“If we didn’t get to go to Florida, we wouldn’t get to start playing games until mid-March. At that point there’s no way our pitchers would have enough time to be ready for a three-game conference series in just two weeks,” junior pitcher Nolan Collins ’20 points out.
As a member of the baseball team, I can easily see what a difference it makes getting an opportunity to play outside. Even when they’re facing actual pitchers, taking at-bats in the Gray Cage is so much different than real game action for the hitters. On the other hand, the experience is beneficial for the pitchers as well. Pitchers are very schedule-oriented, often liking to get into a regular routine.
The unpredictability of New England weather makes it very difficult to be consistently playing games. Playing for a week outdoors allows the pitchers to start getting acclimated to the workload of their new season and to get in a routine as they move towards the middle of the season.
Spring athletes at Bates aren’t the luckiest when it comes to weather, so they need to take every opportunity they can to go somewhere that allows them to practice and play games. It seems that even just getting to practice outside is incredibly valuable for these teams and they certainly wouldn’t get to where they want to be if they didn’t get to take a business trip to the sunshine state every February.