Spring athletes stuck in a cage

March 24, 2008

by Matt Kane

The itch is spreading.

Everywhere I went last week for my job, it seemed like everybody had the itch to get outside and do something active.

Every March in Minnesota is the same frustrating month for athletes.

Local television news channels keep showing the Minnesota Twins working out and playing relaxed games under the crisp blue skies and refreshing sun in Florida, while we amateur athletes run on the treadmills or in the halls of the school with tears rolling down our cheeks.

Those tears are probably just some of the runoff draining from our bodies, which are finally starting to thaw out, thanks to the 33-plus degree weather.

When I made my rounds at the high school last week to speak with the coaches of the spring sports, it prompted me to think back to what it was like to be an athlete working out indoors for a sport that is supposed to be played on real grass under the sun.

What I though about was the pain we northern athletes go through in the early weeks of spring practice.

Sure, there is some physical pain with arms getting used to throwing a baseball or softball, and our legs getting used to clearing a hurdle, but I believe the greater pain that comes with indoor training in the spring is mental.

I grew up playing baseball in the spring, and, after a week of indoor practice, there was nothing I looked forward to more than playing catch on a real baseball field. There is something wrong about having to hit the cutoff man when he is standing near the free throw line of the indoor basketball court.

And then, for baseball players, there is the batting cage. If you listen in during a practice, the batting cage is sometimes shortened to just the “cage.” No term could be more fitting for what it feels like to be forced inside that netting for two-plus weeks.

The second definition in “Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary” describes a cage as “a barred cell for confining prisoners.”

The cell walls aren’t usually bars, but I think any ball player, who has had to train in a gymnasium, will agree that the first two weeks of spring practice has felt like a prisoner of winter.

The Delano softball team is taking a stand against Mother Nature, and her refusal to give up winter this year by heading south this week for some spring training in Florida.

Under the watchful eye of Mickey Mouse at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, the Tigers will train outside in a snow-free environment with teams from New Jersey and New Hampshire.

There is a financial cost to being a snow bird, but I don’t think anyone can fault the girls or their parents for buying an early spring.

The ball players aren’t the only athletes eager to get out. I’m sure the track athletes are looking forward to, well, running on a track. And think about the golfers.

The golfers use the gymnastics room for their early spring practices, using their wedges to pick the ball off the matted blue carpet of the springy floor, which is used in gymnastics for the floor exercise. And, guess what, there are no cups in that floor. So, instead of putting into a cup hollowed out of the ground, the golfers aim for croquette-like, wire bridges made to signify the width of an actual golf hole. For an extra challenge, the golf coaches could make their players hit a drive while standing on the balance beam. Now that would break the monotony of indoor golf.

Like with taxes and the Twins’ lineup, we complain about practicing indoors every spring and don’t expect it to be any different next year. We just need to stay positive, and remember that there will soon be an ointment for that annual itch.