The start of the high school baseball season in Springfield might be described with one word: calamitous.
At the first 2015 lunch meeting of the Springfield Lead-off Club, Central coach Bill Shoemaker described what he called a “tradition,” that sounds more like a curse.
“I don’t mean it to be as funny as it’s going to sound, but every year somebody gets hit in the face Day 1 in practice — every year,” Shoemaker said.
The Bulldogs’ boss tried to get smart by keep actual baseballs out of the first official practice, opting to work with foam practice balls. A player still got hit in the face. When baseballs made their first appearance at practice, a player got hit in the face while standing in against an inside fastball.
“For whatever reason my kid didn’t turn away from the ball, he puts his hand up, and it goes right over his hand and hits him right in the chin — four stitches,” Shoemaker said.
Central pitchers combined to allow 142 walks and 45 hit batsmen in 25 games in 2014. They appear to have cut back on the trend of free passes in 2015, surrendering just three walks and six hit batsmen in the first five games of 2015.
Hillcrest coach Ryan Schaffitzel explained the Hornets barely avoided playing a shirts-and-skins game at the Bartlesville, Oklahoma Classic. Hillcrest ordered new baseball uniforms that arrived via overnight delivery just before the first game.
“Our guys thought they were pretty special, getting their jerseys delivered to the hotel for them,” Schaffitzel said.
Hillcrest looked sharp, but went 0-4 against Sooner State opposition in the weekend tournament while continuing to search for an optimal starting lineup.
Parkview senior pitcher Dante Stevens learned a lesson in a 5-2 win over Excelsior Springs. With two outs in the fifth inning, coach John Thompson walked to the mound to check on Stevens after he walked a batter. Stevens, whose pitch count sat around 60 for the game, promptly walked the next batter. Thompson went back to the mound to change pitchers and tried to move Stevens to right field.
“He goes, Coach, I can’t. I can’t even throw.’ I said, ‘Dante, I was just out here a batter ago and you can get this guy out at 60 pitches?’ He goes, ‘I know, my arm is hanging,'” Thompson recounted. “So we had a valuable lesson after the game about being honest during mound visits.”
Vikings’ third baseman Zach Ralph made a diving catch on a line drive for an assisted double play to seal a win.
Kickapoo avoided calamity before the season officially began. The Chiefs encountered tornado warnings as they scurried south for the Central Arkansas Invitational in Little Rock last Wednesday night.
Coach Jason Howser says the team bus was somewhere between Branson and Harrison, Ark. when skies looked especially wooly.
“I looked at the driver and I said, ‘There’s really nowhere to pull over,’ and he said, ‘No, there’s not,’ so we decided we’d try to outrun it,” Howser said.
Kickapoo (3-1) scored wins over Greenwood, Arkadelphia and Conway, Arkansas, but fell to Little Rock Catholic in the championship game on a walkoff hit. Howser says the Chiefs were angry when they got back on the bus.
At Glendale (3-3), the real fun begins Thursday with the annual Red and Blue Tournament.
Glendale, Parkview, Kickapoo and Hillcrest play host to one varsity game and one freshman game per day Thursday-Saturday. Forsyth, Belton, Springdale (Arkansas) Har-Ber and Smith-Cotton serve as the out-of-town guests.
The Falcons look for a good showing in the tournament, which coach Mike Snodgrass worked to make a way for Springfield schools to showcase their baseball parks.
“I would say of our six games, in five we’ve played pretty well, so we’re going to be a competitive team,” Snodgrass said.
New Convenant Academy (0-0) plays its first varsity baseball game ever Tuesday afternoon at Crane. The Warriors’ first two games were called off due to muddy fields, but it’s just another day for veteran coach John Hartley and a team that held its first practices in a parking lot to avoid snow.
“I didn’t have to worry about running after practice, because we just had a rule that if you didn’t catch the ball and throw it to your partner, you ran after the ball,” Hartley said. “Some of them played chase for a while and they’re in better shape now.”
The Springfield Lead-off Club meets Mondays at noon at Coyote’s Sports Café, 1743 S. Glenstone Ave. Cost for lunch and brief presentations from Springfield high school and college baseball coaches is $10.