LEWISTON — Joe McGrath peered out one of the windows with a backyard view of Lewiston High School and had to shield his eyes.

A brilliant mid-afternoon sun hovered directly over the football practice field, which is still virtually covered by a thin film of snow and ice.

A couple of hundred yards to the southeast, though, the baseball field is already thawing out, evident by a big brown circle that appears to be rapidly expanding in diameter from the pitcher’s mound out.

“I think it’s creeping up on us pretty fast,” said McGrath, who was referring to the upcoming varsity baseball season, but could have just as easily been talking about the spring weather that may or may not accompany the start of the final scholastic sports season.

“We have a scrimmage next week,” continued McGrath, a senior third baseman who will be one of the Blue Devils’ top hitters this season. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to play, but the way this weather’s been going, who knows. We should be able to get some time outside here pretty soon.”

McGrath was one of 55 boys participating in the first day of tryouts in the Lewiston gymnasium. Monday was the start of full-squad spring practice across the state. Pitchers and catchers reported for duty last week.

Spring is, of course, the most unpredictable of seasons, especially in Maine. So coaches know they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature when the sports season starts. They and their players learn to adjust, though it’s not always easy.

Opening day is just three weeks away (April 16), and for at least the start of the pre-season, the Lewiston baseball teams, freshman, junior varsity and varsity, will have to split time in the gymnasium with three softball teams, four lacrosse teams and track and field. That means coaches such as varsity baseball coach Don King need to make the most of the gym time they’re allotted.

“With all of these kids, one of the things I like to do on the first day is just to get them in with a lot of repetitions on a lot of different things, because some of these kids really need a little time to get the kinks out,” King said.

That meant some light hitting and throwing on Monday.

Today and Wednesday, King and his coaching staff will put the players through more rigorous fielding, batting and throwing practice. Freshmen will be watched closely over the next couple of days to see if they’re ready for JV or varsity, and cuts will begin by the end of the week.

“By this weekend, we should have an idea who our crew is,” King said.

Since playing in neighborhood sandlot games is out of the question this time of year, players were in various states of readiness heading into yesterday’s tryout.

McGrath, who played varsity hockey over the winter, was in prime physical condition, but still has some work to do to get ready for the season.

“It’s all about getting the timing down and getting in rhythm. It’s all timing and mechanics,” McGrath said. “You can feel it (when you’ve got those down). You know when you’re on top of your game.”

Senior Pat Ouellette, another three-year varsity player projected as the Devils’ starting second baseman, spent the off-season working out at Four Seasons and attending the “Baseball Showcase” in Cape Cod.

“We’ve been coming in here in the morning three or four times a week to get our arms loose and stuff,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that tough to get going.”

The Blue Devils hope they can get going quickly in this, their last season in the SMAA. Lewiston and Edward Little will join the KVAC next season, which is made up mostly of central Maine schools that have to wait as long as the ones in the Twin Cities to thaw out.

“We won’t be the northern-most team in the KVAC, which is good,” King said. “Some of these southern (Maine) teams, they’re outside a lot earlier than us. At times, we’ve had to go to places like Cape Elizabeth and Bonny Eagle and even out of state (to get some outdoor scrimmages in before the season starts). It’s tough to put those kind of travel dates together when you’re on a limited budget.”

Yet while the crack of the bat echoes off bleachers instead of trees, and even though the ground ball takes a funny hop near the free throw line rather than the first base line, it still felt like spring to King.

“It’s great to get going,” he said.


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