02/11/2010 – Daily News Record
Opening Probably Delayed A Month Snow covers JMU’s Veterans Memorial Park. By Mike Barber Daily News Record HARRISONBURG – The first time the James Madison baseball team throws a ball or swings a bat at its new Veterans Memorial Park may be in an official game rather than in practice. Heavy snow has kept the Dukes off the field at their recently constructed stadium. They’re scheduled to host Marist next weekend – Feb. 19-21 – in a season-opening series, but that looks highly iffy. In fact, the new ballpark’s debut probably will be delayed a month because of the weather. "It’s pretty frustrating," JMU coach Spanky McFarland said this week. "We’ve got a new field and haven’t been on it yet. It’s like a kid that gets a new car for his birthday and then can’t drive it." In fact, McFarland said, the only time the club has spent in the new stadium was when it took team pictures there earlier this month. Tarps are covering the mound and home-plate area, along with a few spots on the base-paths, McFarland said. McFarland and JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said the school does not want to use heavy plows on the field for fear of damaging the turf. That means, they said, they’re basically waiting for the snow to melt to a level where they can safely shovel it off. "You really do have limited access to being able to scrape those surfaces," Bourne said. "This is a new surface. We don’t, as a general rule, want to put any equipment on it." So McFarland’s team – like baseball and softball teams around the state – is finding ways to make do. Because the Dukes have moved from Long Field to the new park, they also use Memorial Hall – the old Harrisonburg High School – for indoor workouts. The gymnasium gives the team room for two batting cages and is large enough to scrimmage pitchers against hitters, McFarland said. In past years, McFarland said the Dukes have been able to use the football field at Bridgeforth Stadium for long tosses, to get their arms loose. But with the stadium undergoing construction to expand it, that’s not an option right now. McFarland said this year’s snow has been the worst he’s dealt with in his 13 years at JMU – but not the worst of his career. "I go back to my days at Northern Illinois, reaching into my files," said McFarland, who coached from 1991-97 at the Dekalb, Ill., school. In those old papers, McFarland has a bevy of indoor drills designed to both train and occupy a team that can’t get outside to practice because of cold weather. He augments those activities with fresh ideas from his coaching staff. "My assistant coaches have been great trying to be creative," McFarland said. They’re not alone. At the area’s two Division III schools, Bridgewater College and Eastern Mennonite University, the snow has driven the baseball teams indoors as well. "I’m ready to move to Florida," EMU coach Mark Mace joked. "Trying to keep them focused has been really hard. We have a serious case of cabin fever." EMU has had its first seven games canceled because of the snow. The Royals are now supposed to open Feb. 20 when they host Messiah. BC is scheduled to begin play Saturday at Methodist as part of the ODAC/USA South Challenge. Mace’s team got to workout outside twice this preseason. At BC, coach Curt Kendall’s team shoveled off the field for some outdoor work last week – before the snowstorm that hit Feb. 5. "It’s pushed us inside more than we’ve had in the past," said BC coach Curt Kendall, also the school’s athletic director. The Eagles and Royals both have batting cages set up in their school’s gymnasiums. Pitchers throw bullpen sessions indoors as well. "Just picture basketball practice where the only thing you can do is shoot free throws to get ready for a game," Mace said. But Kendall and McFarland said, unlike sports like football, where the entire team needs to be together to really get a lot of work done, baseball players can get a little more out of individual drills. Pitchers can work on pitching without facing hitters, hitters can take batting practice in cages and infielders can take ground balls. "With our sport, you can break it down a little easier," Kendall said. "We get it done. We find a way." Kendall and McFarland said what the players can’t do is long toss and work on base-running. McFarland said missing so much time outdoors before jumping into competition is a concern. "The things that get lost are, you can’t stretch your arm out, you can’t run any great distances," he said. "That lends itself to injuries." And Mace noted, players’ bodies haven’t had a chance to adjust to the cold outside, which could lead to muscle pulls. "The one thing I am worried about, when we have the opportunity to practice outside, your body gets into condition with the weather temperatures," Mace said. "We’ve been practice in whatever the indoor temperature is." As for the grand opening of the new Veterans Memorial Park? McFarland said it unlikely the Dukes will play Marist on Feb. 19-21. McFarland has already moved the Feb. 23 home game against Radford back to March 30 and he said he’s working to postpone the Longwood game on March 3 as well. That would make JMU’s March 16 game against Liberty – likely 13 games into the season – the home opener. The Dukes face four strong programs – Coastal Carolina, North Carolina State and UC Irvine at Myrtle Beach and Virginia in Charlottesville – before that. As for a ceremonial opener, Bourne said JMU will save that for April to make sure the weather is better suited for fanfare.