Benefield: Rain wreaks havoc on area high school baseball schedules

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In a recent, rare break in the rain and on a day that practice didn’t get canceled or moved inside, a Rincon Valley Christian baseball player bemoaned another woe of this especially weather-plagued season: soggy cleats.

“One of my players just put his shoes on and said, ‘I’m so tired of putting on wet shoes,’” said Eagles coach Darin Phelps.

But damp tootsies are the least of area baseball players and coaches’ worries. A historically wet winter that included the area’s worst flooding in nearly a quarter century has made fields too soggy to hold practice, made scheduling and rescheduling contests a bit of a nightmare, and managing players, pitch counts and lineups, a true challenge for some programs.

“We have been able to get nine games in when other teams are at five or six,” Petaluma coach Jim Selvitella said. The Trojans are 7-3 and 4-1 in the Vine Valley Athletic League.

But they, too, have been chased inside lately.

And the piece that Selvitella said can’t be replicated is baserunning. The timing, the spacing, the fielders’ positions – athletes need to be on the field to get it down.

“It’s all about being on the bases,” he said. “You can only do that on the field. There is nothing in the classroom you can do to work on that.”

But simply getting games in may be the biggest problem at this wet stage of early April. And as teams scramble to reschedule games affected by the recent rains, coaches are having to play more chess with their players – especially their pitchers – to follow pitch count and appearance regulations even as games are often being slotted into back-to-back spots on the calendar.

How are they managing?

“That’s a great question when I have a limited pitching staff,” Phelps said.

CIF rules allow pitchers to throw up to 30 pitchers without requiring a full day of rest between outings. When back-to-back games are scheduled, this becomes key. Phelps said he will likely spread his duties out between a handful of players and watch their pitch count like a hawk to keep them eligible for the next game.

“It’s ‘You’ve got an inning, you’ve got an inning, you each get an inning,’” Phelps said. “It’s hard to get into a tempo or rhythm but I have to do it.”

The Eagles were supposed to host North Central League II foe St. Vincents on Friday, but according to Phelps, RVC’s home plate is “a lake.”

So the game was moved to Saturday at St. Vincent. Which also meant that the Mustangs, who are 7-2 overall and 3-0 in the NCLII, had to cancel an out-of-league key matchup with perennial power St. Patrick-St. Vincent out of Vallejo. So even when teams have good field conditions at home, their schedule is still getting re-arranged.

“League takes priority over non-league,” St. Vincent coach Stan Switala said.

All the makeups will put the Mustangs on the field playing games on Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, a double-header next Saturday and a game on Monday. Luckily, Switala said he’s deep and has pitchers who can cover that kind of schedule.

“I have a little more leeway because I have eight pitchers I can throw,” he said.

But for a team like the Credo High Gryphons, a jammed up make-up schedule means coach John Aliotti will be forced to go all hands on deck.

“I have to think ahead about where I’m going to use pitchers,” he said. “I can pull from my JV and put them back as I need. I give them the ball and say, ‘Go have some fun out there, you have a great defense behind you.’”

The Gryphons, whose home field is at Golis Park, are 2-3 overall and 2-1 in the NCLII.

And for umpires? The schedule is seemingly ever-changing. And the area is already suffering from a shortage of umpires before the crazy-making schedule even came into the picture.

“It’s been crazy juggling umpires to get games covered,” said Gary Frieders, president of North Coast Officials and chief umpire assignor for area games.

“On occasion we have had to tell schools no because all the umpires are used,” he said.

He, like just about every coach worth his or her salt these days, is also pretty in tune with weather patterns and predications for what kind of skies are rolling in and when.

“Everybody turns into a forecaster this time of year,” he said.

Even for teams with synthetic surface fields, the season has presented puzzles.

“It’s definitely been a challenge,” said Cardinal Newman coach Derek DeBenedetti.

The Cardinals are 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the North Bay League-Oak Division and are scheduled to host second place Ukiah on Monday.

The Cardinals can play in relatively wet conditions but if it gets too blustery or stormy, teams across campus – lacrosse, track, softball, tennis – all head for the same spot: the gym.

“You can’t do full field infield/outfield. It’s very modified,” DeBenedetti said. “You are working on little things.”

Cardinal Newman, like St. Vincent in Petaluma, has opened their turf fields to programs that are under water and desperate to get games in.

“I know people are dying to get on the field,” Switala said. “We let Casa Grande and American Canyon play a game. We were so congested, but we had a three-hour window for them.”

Same goes for Newman. Windsor, Ukiah and Casa Grande have all used the field at some time this season, DeBenedetti said. The Cardinals’ lacrosse program uses the turf as well, because the football field is “unplayable” in this weather, he said.

“Since I moved to California, I can’t remember a baseball season like this,” Switala said.

For Phelps, the season so far has been a lesson in keeping morale high, in keeping organized and being creative.

“We spend a lot of time huddling in the dugout waiting for the rain to pass,” he said. “We haven’t been dry since February.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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