SALEM — Players had a little extra hop in their step, if not in their fastballs, for Mt. Abram’s first day of practice for pitchers and catchers Monday. And, not just because the Roadrunners are going into this season with as much optimism as they’ve had in some time.
For the first time that any of the seniors or four-year coach Ryan Palmer can remember, all everyone had to bring for opening day of the baseball practice season was their gloves and some catching equipment. Snow shovels were not required.
While there is still some snow scattered around the grounds of Mt. Abram High School, there is virtually none on the baseball diamond.
“I was out last week covering off the mound and making sure there’s no snow out there so it can get some sun and dry out,” senior catcher Dylan Tysor said. “Last year at this time, we were digging two feet off the field.”
The field is still too wet for baseball, so a half-dozen pitchers and catchers who reported Monday (two had to skip out for previous commitments) loosened up in the school’s spacious gym, along with their softball counterparts. But the players were hopeful that, with a little dry weather, they could be stretching in the sunshine in a couple of weeks.
“We’re normally in here for another month plus,” Tysor said. “Two years ago, we didn’t even touch the field before we had our first scrimmage.”
A lack of snow since the new year and a recent warm spell has teams all over the state optimistic about getting outside well before Apr. 15, the date the Maine Principals’ Association allows the first countable games.
Ironically, while teams are expecting to get on the field earlier than usual, their opportunities to scrimmage in the preseason will be limited. New rules implemented by the MPA capped the number of non-countable dates to five.
The Roadrunners aren’t scheduled to begin their season in the realigned Mountain Valley Conference until April 28 against Jay. They are one of a few teams in the MVC North with no crossover games scheduled against the South, so they will play the minimum of 14 regular-season games. That will make the preseason games they have scheduled against Livermore Falls, Rangeley, Richmond and Winslow more important, according to Palmer.
Giving pitchers and catchers a one week jump on everyone else is helpful, too, senior pitcher Aaron McGuiness said.
“It’s pretty important because we’ve got a lot to go over and need to run a lot to get in shape and basically get prepared for the season a little bit ahead of everybody else,” McGuiness said.
McGuiness, one of the top lefties in Western C last year, is one reason the Roadrunners are optimistic they can compete for an MVC title this year. Adding a pair of Mt. Blue transfers to a team that went 8-8 and reached the playoffs last season is another.
One of those transfers, senior southpaw Tim Smith, gives the Roadrunners what Palmer thinks will be a powerful 1-2 pitching punch. While he played American Legion ball with a few of the Roadrunners, the week spent with his batterymates will strengthen more than just his arm.
“I’m getting to know my teammates and getting my arm in pitching shape and we’re getting closer as a pitching staff,” said Smith, who did his share of diamond shoveling 20 miles to the south in Farmington the last three years.
As important as pitchers-and-catchers week is and as enticing as a snow-free diamond seemed, Palmer reminded his players that the season is still a long ways away.
“This week is to get the guys in here, get their arms stretched out and have them understand that I don’t want them to come in here and throw 100 mph,” he said. “You can have great mechanics and everything could be good and you throw 50 mph and I’m going to like that a lot better than someone who’s throwing 90 and doesn’t know where the ball is going.”