Pitching coach Andrew Cessario stands behind catchers Jake Arel, right, and Christian Beliveau during Edward Little High School baseball practice at the Ingersoll Arena Turf Facility in Auburn on Monday.
AUBURN — Opening day for the Boston Red Sox usually signals that high school baseball season is right around the corner. But you wouldn’t know it examining the diamonds around the state, most of which are covered in feet of snow, with yet another blanket expected for Tuesday.
After being cooped up in the gym for practice for two weeks, Maine’s spring athletes have had enough of being surrounded by four walls, a ceiling and a hardwood floor. A change, any change, is welcome.
That explains why Edward Little’s baseball team had a little extra hop in its step on Monday. Although practice was again held indoors on a rare, honest-to-goodness spring day, the Red Eddies were happy to work out in the Ingersoll Turf Facility.
“I think there is a little bit more energy in here, knowing that we’re not all in a gym or we’re not all trapped together and you can get more done,” senior C.J. Jipson said. “It puts a little excitement into the team.”
The City of Auburn converted Ingersoll Ice Arena and re-opened it in October, 2015 with lush FieldTurf replacing the ice, boards and bleachers. Since day one, the building has hosted numerous youth and adult programs, but as word of mouth has spread, it has become increasingly popular with fall and spring high school sports programs looking to practice in a large, climate-proof space.
This spring, with winter refusing to release its icy grip, inquiries from school and club teams are going through the roof, according to Jeremy Gatcomb, the facility’s general manager.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gatcomb said. “I’m probably the only one happy we’re getting these spring storms.”
But coaches calling for last-minute practice time before the start of the regular season in two weeks are going to be disappointed. Aside from a half-hour here or there, it’s booked solid, Gatcomb said, even with expanded hours.
“It’s very similar to ice time. You have to book it months in advance,” he said.
Edward Little booked practice time for its baseball, softball and lacrosse teams last fall (The rental fee is $150 an hour. Batting cages are also available for $30 an hour). Baseball and softball usually split the facility for at least part of the time they have blocked out. The athletic department pays for one practice per week, but with additional fundraising, the baseball team has been able to use the building three times per week since spring practice began.
“Once in awhile we go to the gym, but it’s so much better coming in here,” Jipson said. “It’s bigger. It’s more relatable to a true field. We’ve got more batting cages, more room to do stuff.”
Even while splitting the facility with the softball team for the start of practice on Monday, the Eddies still had plenty of room to spread out for hitting, throwing and fielding stations. Once softball practice ended, they could stretch out even more and play a simulated game.
“We’ve got more area to work and get through everything,” senior Jarod Norcross Plourde said. “With the amount of guys we have, it helps us get through a lot more stuff a lot quicker.”
Time is money when the space is rented, so EL coach Dave Jordan texts a detailed practice plan to his players so there isn’t a lot of standing around.
And players just might be tempted to stand around on the lush, green turf. But the Eddies were much more interested in taking infield practice on something besides hardwood.
“It’s nice to play on something that’s relatable to grass,” Jipson said.
“The hops are a little more true than on a basketball court,” Norcross Plourde said. “It’s almost like playing on grass.”
“It’s going to sound funny, but some people will say to me, ‘It’s just good to see something like green grass,'” Gatcomb said.
It may be the closest thing they see to it for a while yet.
Giles Paradie throws a pitch during Edward Little High School baseball practice at the Ingersoll Arena Turf Facility in Auburn on Monday. Behind Paradie is Ben Cassidy, left, pitching coach Andrew Cessario and Tyler Libby.
Catchers Christian Beliveau, left, and Jake Arel talk during Edward Little High School baseball practice at the Ingersoll Arena Turf Facility in Auburn on Monday.