College marketing departments, take note. San Diego coach Rich Hill had the right idea to properly promote college baseball’s new common start date, which forced teams to wait for their first practice until today.
"It’s finally here," Hill said on my voicemail this morning. "February 1. We were thinking of having a Midnight Madness practice, but decided to take the more traditional route."
Around the nation, there are probably dozens of coaches who were similarly tempted to start practice as soon as the clock struck midnight Friday. The long offseason is finally over, and Division I teams can begin full practices today for the first time since the end of fall practices. For warm-weather schools in particular, Feb. 1 couldn’t have come soon enough.
"I think everybody’s really excited, and if you talk to any coach this morning he’ll probably tell you the same thing," Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. "These next few weeks are going to absolutely fly by for everybody. You’re going to leave the field every day thinking you don’t have enough time to get enough done. You’ve got 18 practice days, that’s all you’ve got. Coaches have to be real efficient."
The change-of-season plan, which goes into effect in 2008, has mandated this later start to spring practice to prevent warm-weather schools from getting an extra month or more of practice time compared to cold-weather schools. Teams have spent the winter doing individual workouts, where players can work on baseball skills with coaches for two hours per week and weightlifting for six hours per week, leaving coaches to decide how best to allot time for workouts.
Some coaches, such as O’Sullivan, worked out players five times per week for 24 minutes each day, while other coaches chose to get the whole team on the field for longer periods over fewer days. For pitchers, the two hours per week weren’t a huge hindrance, because they could throw three bullpen sessions per week at 20 minutes per session and still have another 80 minutes for other baseball skills.
But with just three weeks of full practice before the uniform start date for games on Feb. 22, pitchers will be hard-pressed to get into game shape by Opening Day.
"Shoot, you only get three weeks before your first game–it’s time to put it in fast forward," O’Sullivan said. "You can push back the dates all you want and start it, but the schools in the South are still going to have the advantage because they can get outside. You can get position players ready for the most part, but how do you get your pitchers ready if you can’t get outside? Coaches are really, really going to have to think long and hard about how they’re going to use their pitchers early in the year."
Up in Albany, N.Y., Siena has been blessed with good weather recently, relatively speaking. The temperature has been in the low 40s, and there’s no snow on the ground, allowing the Saints to hold individual workouts outdoors. But Siena coach Tony Rossi said the "later" start date didn’t really have any effect on his club.
"It doesn’t affect us much–we would usually be inside anyway, whether it’s now or in early March," Rossi said. "It could be nice for the next couple of weeks, then we could get snow for the next two weeks after that. It’s only a difference in our situation of probably about a week. I know it’s hurting your warmer weather schools more than it hurts us.
"Everybody’s kind of pumped up to get started, all around the country. I’ve been talking to coaches throughout the country, and everybody’s champing at the bit–especially the Southern schools. They’re used to being out there already."
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