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Spring sports and snow: A repeat of 2013?

Duluth East senior third baseman Nick Andersen swings at the ball during baseball practice in the Duluth East High School gym on Wednesday. With snow still on the ground, and more on the way, spring sports have been pushed inside until further notice for the second consecutive season. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Senior catcher Nate Schuman (back) practices bunting outside a batting cage in the Duluth East High School gym on Wednesday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Today is the first day high school baseball teams in Minnesota can play official games.

Good luck, at least locally.

With winter weather refusing to abate in the Northland, this spring is shaping up to be eerily similar to last year’s, when a nightmarish April turned into the snowiest month in Duluth’s history.

Athletes of spring sports hoped for a reprieve this time around. Unfortunately, they might be in for a reprisal. As much as 6 inches of snow is predicted to fall today, and the 10-day forecast shows temperatures struggling to climb out of the 30s.

“It looks like it will be a little bit worse (this year) just because it’s been so cold and we have so much snow, and it just keeps coming,” Duluth East’s Chris Olson, a senior on the Greyhounds’ baseball team, said during a workout in the gym on Wednesday.

Olson and his teammates were immersed in a lively batting-cage routine Wednesday, the middle of their second week of practice. Players shuffled through bunting and soft-toss stations, with little down time in between. It’s easy to be upbeat about a new sport at the beginning of the season. That becomes more difficult, players and coaches said, as indoor practices turn stale.

“I get bored, and if I get bored the kids are going to get bored,” East coach John Rudolph said, noting the challenges of keeping his players engaged.

Across town, the Duluth Denfeld softball team is in its third week of practice. Softball teams were able to start playing games one week ago today. The Hunters wisely didn’t schedule their first contest until April 10, in Irondale and Princeton.

As for the first time Denfeld will play at its home park, Wade Field, it’s anybody’s guess. Not surprisingly, it’s snow-covered, with more on the way.

“Hopefully the beginning of April, but I don’t see that happening until probably mid- to end of April,” senior Ciarra Taipale said.

Being inside presents other challenges aside from eventual boredom. Ceilings, of course, get in the way of fly balls, and smooth wood floors do little to simulate true groundball hops. Additionally, space is limited.

“Once in a while, we do go over to Wade and play in the parking lot just to hit fly balls so kids have some idea that there’s a sky,” Denfeld softball coach Dick Swanson said.

Swanson then recalled last April when it seemed like a snowstorm walloped Northeastern Minnesota every other day.

“When you get 47 inches in April, you can look up ‘depression’ and see if my picture’s there,” the longtime coach said. “It was bad.”

To help break up the monotony of what figures to be more than a month inside, the Denfeld and East softball teams will rekindle a budding dodgeball rivalry at some point in the next few weeks.

“After being in the gym for a while, things kind of get repetitive, so we try to spice it up and get a little dodgeball game going with our rivals,” Denfeld’s Alexia Klaas said.

Last year offered a chaotic sprint to the regular season’s finish line after games were delayed locally into May. It wasn’t uncommon for teams to play four or five times a week once the snow cleared and fields became playable.

Until that happens this year, teams will wait patiently and utilize what resources they have — artificial-turf football fields, for example — while traveling south to the less-snowy confines of the Twin Cities.

Rudolph and the Greyhounds are scheduled to open with a doubleheader in Rochester on April 10-11. The coach alluded to the cyclical nature of spring baseball in the Northland.

“Last spring was awful, but the year before it was 74 degrees on March 17 and we were outside for tryouts,” Rudolph said. “We paid for it last year.”

The way things look now, they’ll keep paying it for this year.

Duluth college teams are also finding it difficult to fit competition into their schedules. Click here to read more.