Having our Phil of early spring weather
I had to chuckle this week when a few friends of mine, all global warming alarmists, were distributing on Facebook a wanted poster with a certain western Pennsylvania rodent in the crosshairs – after all, if we’re in such a state that the world is about to flood over with greenhouse heat, then we should be thankful the little furry fellow proved wrong and cooled things down a bit as the seasons changed.
Hypocrisy aside, the reality is this weather couldn’t have come at a worse time as far as the baseball and softball teams are concerned. Already forced to practice indoors – which many coaches will tell you is no practice at all – the teams were set to start this week when Punxsutawney Phil decided to throw us a curve ball and bring snowballs in place of fastballs.
I’m reminded not of last year, when we had a stunningly beautiful spring, but of two recent prior years, among the worst that veteran sportswriters, athletic directors and coaches could remember. It was not that long ago that the spring started with 23 consecutive days with at least one postponement each – and most days offered more than the minimum. Just two years before that, we had a spring so rainy that teams were playing their 12th game when they normally would hit the field for their 20th.
We can’t control the weather, and none of the local high schools has a domed stadium. But we can control the schedule, and maybe it’s time the persistent postponements of spring be addressed in that fashion.
A couple years back, the fall season ball sports – soccer and field hockey – saw their season clipped to 18 games. Maybe it’s time to trim the spring as well (for that matter, I’m not sure basketball needs 22 competitions – more than any fall or spring team – but at least they can play on a rainy day).
The next phase of the season delay will be when the pitchers take the mound, and then have to leave it. Baseball hurlers are limited – sort of; the rules really are about feeling good at the administrative level and certainly not about limiting the overhand throws by young arms – and the more games that have to be compressed into a short period of time, the harder it is on the pitching staff.
It’s long past time the National Federation of High Schools and its members – which includes the PIAA – implement a pitch count in place of an inning count. If a player throws one strike to end an inning, it should not count the same as a player who throws 20 or 30 pitches. You’d think the coaches would want to protect their charges, but I’ve heard skippers boast of a 16- or 17-year-old who went the distance, throwing well more than 100 pitches in the process.
It appears that there will be a cooperative program in field hockey in Juniata County next fall. At the school board meeting March 21, the district began the process of applying to the PIAA to put the varsity teams together. The junior high teams were already working toward a co-op, with that vote coming a month earlier.
For those keeping track, that’s the fourth sport that is now a joint program in the district. The report from the board meeting doesn’t state which school hockey will call home; there are arguments in favor of either one. Rumor has it the team will be based at East Juniata, which clearly has been the dominant team for several years. Basing the program there means the Tigers would still have to get through powerful District 4 just to have a crack at a state playoff game – a daunting task with perennial powers like Bloomsburg, Mifflinburg and Selinsgrove in the way.
As Indians, the same squad could be in the state quarterfinals with some regularity, just as Indian Valley was before Mifflin County was formed. If the team does not suit up in District 6, there’s a fair chance that district will lose its qualifier – unless the PIAA allows it to stay as a subregional, with District 5’s Forbes Road as the fourth team (the minimum the agency requires for an automatic state berth).
Better for East Juniata would be the dream team gridiron combo of the two Juniatas and Midd-West, which would remain in Class AAA, be centrally located for all schools, could dominate the Tri-Valley League and have a better place to play than Dietrick Field. But we’ll leave that one for another day.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at email@example.com.