Baseball, softball struggle to prepare as weather worsens

By Carl Stoffers

Ask the average American about the ‘boys of summer,’ and you’re guaranteed to hear the word baseball. No other major sport is more synonymous with warm weather than the national pastime. Professional teams flee the cold of the north to conduct spring training in the sun of Florida or Arizona, and the season ends with the Fall Classic in late October, just in time for the frost of November to set in.

This spring, as the Kean University baseball and softball teams prepare to take the field, the weather in Union has been more ‘frozen tundra’ than ‘field of dreams,’ causing each squad to adjust its training schedule.

Head baseball coach Neil Ioviero downplayed the frigid weather, which has seen Jim Hynes Stadium, his team’s home field, covered in a foot of snow for several weeks.

“We think we have the nicest facility in the state, especially with the FieldTurf field, which gives us an advantage,” said Ioviero. “We have been able to get outside four or five times in the last two weeks, since the football field was plowed, which is gonna be more than anyone else in the league.”

The latest storms, which dumped a combined eight inches of snow and ice on the Union campus in the opening week of February, have left the university’s maintenance department unable to keep the football field clear, forcing both teams indoors for the foreseeable future. Head softball coach Margie Acker expressed frustration with the weather, while echoing Ioviero’s sentiment about Kean’s facilities.

“It’s been horrible,” Acker said of the weather. “We’re stuck in the gym for now, but in our situation we have it better than a lot of schools because we have more space.”

The teams are currently practicing in the Harwood Arena, a state-of-the-art 2,500-capacity multipurpose facility, and parts of the D’Angola Gymnasium, which consists of a weight room and smaller gym area. The baseball team can use batting cages inside, as well as practice pitching and, occasionally, defensive drills.

“We have the small gym next to the weight room where we do our pitching, and then the big gym, Harwood, we hit in there and sometimes we can play defense depending in the space issues,” Ioviero said.

The softball team, explained Acker, has more flexibility when training indoors.

“We can be more creative than baseball can, because our distances are shorter, so we can set up a whole field inside. With every team stuck inside, that’s when you have to become a little creative with practice time.”

Ioviero has chosen to look at the indoor training as a positive and refused to make any excuses, even as the Feb. 21 opener looms on the horizon with no relief from the brutal weather in sight.

“We won’t make excuses, there’s nothing like being outside, it gets you ready quicker, but whatever we’re dealing with, we have it better than anyone else,” Ioviero said. “We’ll get ourselves ready, regardless of the circumstances. When you’re stuck inside, you can really hit the fundamentals that maybe you overlook when you’re outside dealing with a whole bunch of stuff going on.”

Acker, whose team opens the season on Feb. 28 in balmy Virginia Beach, has virtually written off outdoor training in Union this preseason.

“Looking outside now, I don’t know when the next time we’ll get outside will be,” she said. “We may not get outside until we go south.”

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