, Newburyport, MA

April 9, 2014

Muddy fields creating a nightmare for spring sports

Mac Cerullo
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Considering how brutal this winter has been, it seems appropriate that the season would offer a parting shot as the bitter cold finally begins to give way to the crisp warmth of spring.

All the snow that has piled up across the area had to melt eventually, and now that the temperature has crept up above freezing, the melt has saturated nearly every baseball and lacrosse field in the Greater Newburyport area, making it nearly impossible for any of the local spring sports teams to get out and play.

With such poor field conditions spread across the entire North Shore, most teams have been forced to practice inside for the first few weeks of the season, and figuring out when and where to play the games has proven to be a nightmare for the coaches, athletic directors and league organizers who are trying to manage all of the schedule changes.

“I’ve never seen a wetter spring in the 16 years I’ve worked here. We’ve never had this kind of start where everything is moving,” said Karen Atherton, the athletics secretary for Triton Regional High School. “It’s not just one sport, it’s everything, all of the sports. Sometimes you can squeeze in a game here or a game there, but it’s happening with all sports at all the schools.”

This past Saturday, the Pentucket varsity baseball team was scheduled to open its season at home against Saugus, but after both schools’ fields were deemed unfit to play on, the game wound up being moved all the way to Malden Catholic High School. Newburyport, Amesbury and Triton had home games of their own that day too, but all of those wound up being postponed outright and will be made up later in the year.

Then with yesterday’s inclement weather, three more baseball games were rained out, along with the Pentucket boys lacrosse team’s game at Hamilton-Wenham and two other local girls lacrosse games at Newburyport and Pentucket.

“It’s definitely worse [than normal], honestly. The only thing we can really do is laugh it off,” said Pentucket athletic director Dan Thornton. “We have a saying going around here in New England that if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute, but for us it’s been wait a few weeks. It’s the longest we’ve ever been inside. Our baseball team hasn’t even been on the field yet.”

Until the fields begin to dry up, it’s going to be difficult to predict which games on the schedule will take place and which ones will get moved. League organizers hope things will start to stabilize soon, because while rescheduling a game may not sound too onerous, it’s actually a lot more time-consuming than it looks.

When a game is postponed, the coaches, athletic directors and league commissioners not only have to notify the players, but they also have to get in touch with the officials and bus drivers too to make sure everyone is on the same page. With dozens of teams across the region, those calls often add up quickly.

“Whenever I have a rainy day like today, I lose usually 100 percent of my games, and that can be anywhere from 20 to 60 games involving 40 to 100 officials,” said Jim McKeever, who is the commissioner of baseball for the Cape Ann League and the Northeastern Conference. “Back in the old days that could mean 200 or more phone calls. With the Internet it makes it a little more bearable, but it’s still a lot.”

McKeever added that the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams all need to be taken into consideration when making scheduling changes. Each of those games will usually feature a handful of officials and transportation for each team, so when a game is canceled, all of them need to be contacted and informed of the change in schedule.

So what can schools do in the meantime? Unfortunately, not much. Newburyport athletic director Bob Clarke said when it comes to early spring weather, the only thing you can really do is wait for the fields to dry up. But as inconvenient as waiting can be, it would be worse to go out too early and either tear up the field for the season or risk someone getting hurt.

“It’s been tough, but hopefully we’ll have some sun tomorrow and no rain for a couple of weeks,” Clarke said, adding that several of his fields appear to have turned the corner and should be ready to play on soon. “I think we’ve just about weathered the storm.”