In Minnesota’s high schools, early season baseball practices can occasionally sound like demolition day on “This Old House.”
“Quite a few years ago, we had the old water fountains -- the cast-iron ones — (and) we broke one of those,” noted Steve Fuhs, in his 13th year coaching Detroit Lakes High School in northern Minnesota. “A thrown ball that was thrown badly — and not caught — just hit right in the middle of it, and put a hole in it, basically.”
Other Minnesota coaches recalled seeing wayward pitches leave holes in a high school gym’s bleachers. While no one enjoys such unforeseen destruction at the time, occasional mishaps are simply necessary evils each spring. Indoor baseball practices, after all, are a necessity when Mother Nature is uncooperative.
Teams that make the most of their time indoors will typically thrive once the real games begin in the great outdoors.
“You just have to get down to business — focus,” said Carter Freeman, coach at Edina High School, in a suburb of Minneapolis. “And it’s up to the coaches to get creative, as well, and try to provide an atmosphere where maybe the team can develop some chemistry.”
One definite positive about being stuck indoors? It offers opportunities to eliminate bad habits.
“The first thing we’re gonna do inside is we’re going to work on the real finite fundamentals — fielding the ball, catching the ball,” said coach Michael Fogelson, whose Bemidji (Minnesota) High School squad has to endure roughly three weeks of indoor practices most seasons.
“It sounds simple,” Fogelson added, “but if you’re going to be inside, you might as well get good at the real fundamentals of the game.”
Undeniably, indoor practices aren’t without frustrating elements. It’s virtually impossible to allow outfielders to fine-tune all their defensive skills, for example, when working within the constraints of a venue with a roof. But where there’s a will, there’s a way; In northern Minnesota, it’s not uncommon to see coaches hit fly balls to their outfielders in school parking lots, in condensed, 15-minute drills performed amid sub-freezing temperatures.
And keep in mind, structure is paramount in early season practices.
“The biggest thing about being inside is you have to be super organized,” said Fogelson, “because you have so little space and you have to use that space efficiently.”
Other suggestions from prep coaches regarding how to best utilize indoor-practice time:
Streamlined sessions are ideal. Short indoor practice drills will typically hold the attention of players — yes, even teenage players. Think: base-running drills, or working on double-play scenarios.
Find turf facilities in your region and utilize them if possible, even if it’s only for one weekend.
Coaches shouldn’t read too much into what they observe during indoor workouts, either.
Freeman’s Edina coaching staff, for example, tries to take its early practices with a grain of salt. Edina has access to a modern, city-run dome facility … but even that can’t completely simulate playing on dirt and grass.
“We’ve got to remember not to be fooled by the performance on turf,” said Freeman, because “there are no bad hops there.”
Additionally, it’s in the best interest of coaches to get as creative as possible when their teams are stuck toiling indoors. Try a bunt scrimmage, for example, played on a makeshift, miniature field. Creating competitions in small-group scenarios can also keep young players attentive.
“I think,” Freeman concluded, “it’s just incumbent on the coach to really put in some time and effort in that practice plan.”