Joey Marcoux stood off to the side on the Lawrence High School tennis courts. It was 65 degrees, and the longtime softball coach watched his pitchers and catchers play catch under a cloudless blue sky.

“It’s amazing to be outdoors already. I said to the girls, I’ve done this for 35 years and never been out for pitchers and catchers. This is incredible to be outside and to have missed last year, it feels like I’ve never done this before. I was nervous today,” Marcoux said.

Monday was the opening day of throwing workouts for pitchers and catchers in Maine high school baseball and softball. High school spring sports never got started in 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Baseball and softball players and their coaches were excited to get started on what should be a complete season, culminating in tournaments and state championships, the first high school sports season in Maine to do so since winter 2020.

“It’s nice to have a senior year. It’s nice to be back. Even with masks, I don’t really care,” said Jimmy Reed, a senior on the Skowhegan Area High School baseball team.

Skowhegan baseball coach Mike LeBlanc said he’s not concerned that many of his players will be rusty after not picking up a baseball in almost two years. Many played summer baseball last year, he said.

“I think the ones that play enough of it played this summer. They still will find a place to play, so I’m not worried about that. The biggest worry I have is getting to know the kids again,” LeBlanc said. “Two years, we were just talking about it. I don’t recognize that kid, then you throw a mask on them. We’ll work through it. We’re just happy to be playing.”

Winthrop baseball player Colby Emery warms up during the first days of spring workouts Monday in Winthrop. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

It was the same mood at Cony, where the number 646 was on the whiteboard in reference to the number of days since the last baseball practice, and “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang blared before the drills began.

“This is a gift. It’s one more day than we had last year,” Rams coach Don Plourde said. “Every second we have together is special, and we’re going to take advantage of it. … You don’t appreciate things until you lose them.”

Senior Bobby Stolt, an infielder and one of the two pitchers at the front of the Cony rotation with Kyle Douin, said he was thrilled to be back — particularly with a state tournament once again in play.

“I’m more than excited to be out here,” Stolt said. “We’re going for the state championship. That’s the goal. All the seniors, that’s what we’ve been playing for since we were freshmen. We knew we had the shot either junior or senior year. We didn’t get it last year, (so) now’s our time to shine.”

While Cony was in the gym, Monmouth went outside to hold throwing mechanic drills and conditioning in the mild conditions.

“I think everybody was excited. Coaches, kids, it had a different appreciation for it,” Monmouth coach Eric Palleschi said. “The kids, they’re ready. … These guys would come here without gloves. If we were going to come here and run and stretch, that’s fine.”

Third baseman and pitcher Cam Armstrong, the team’s lone senior, recalled the difficulty of losing last season.

“It was upsetting. I wasn’t expecting a cancellation. I thought in two weeks we’d be back at school, but nope. No more school, no more baseball,” he said. “I’m happy we’re out here, even if we have to wear masks and do distanced stuff. It’s still exciting to be out here.”

Marcoux noted that many of his players played on summer teams last year, but there will be an adjustment to playing high school softball.

“I know the U16 kids played last summer, and there’s a bunch of them that played on a team, so they got some innings in the summer through some tournaments. But they’ve never played high school ball. That’s the thing that’s hard. They’re coming off eighth grade and summer softball tournaments into high school. It’s the same game but it’s a different beast. That one game every other day. Ride on a bus, you don’t go with your friends and your parents and hang in a hotel and play three games in a day. Forty-five (degrees) and windy and cold instead of 88 and wear your sunscreen,” Marcoux said.

Skowhegan catcher Carlee Jarvis receives a pitch as she warms up pitcher Sierra Carey, back to camera, during the first day of workouts for pitchers and catcher Monday in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

For some, like Lawrence senior Sarah Poli, it’s been a while.

“An actual (softball) game, I’d say two years ago. But last summer I went outside and practiced a little bit,” Poli said. “I’m so excited, because this is the first time in my high school career we’ve been able to go outside for pitcher-catcher… I pitched my sophomore year, so I probably have the most experience out of everyone in here. I think we’re going to be pretty good this year. We have a lot of new faces, but sometimes new faces are good.”

At Skowhegan, LeBlanc said he likes to ease into the season, so as not to stress his pitchers’ arms. This season, he’s plans to bring the River Hawks around more slowly than usual. Monday’s first workout was kept to 45 minutes.

“You have a kid around playing with a ball, he’s going to keep throwing it and develop arm problems, so we try to shorten it up a little bit,” LeBlanc said.

Pitchers and catchers workouts are of particular benefit for Winthrop softball, which has three pitchers this season and a new catcher in junior Lydia Rice.

“It doesn’t matter what the rules are. I’m so excited to get out here and play,” Rice said. “It felt weird not playing for a state championship (in soccer and basketball), but I am so excited to get that feeling again.”

With no team to coach last season, Winthrop softball coach Chuck Gurney bought a 1981 Corvette to restore in his free time.

“I’ve got to put that project on hold,” he said. “It’s nice to see these guys. … The anticipation, it builds and it builds and it builds. This is a very energetic, athletic group. I’m anxious to get going with them.”

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