You've waited out the winter with the best of us. That baseball popping up and down in your hand is like a firecracker ready to pop.
It might have to wait a little longer, or end up a dud in the mud.
Here's what lurks just below the winter of 2014 (aka. Snowmagheddon, Never-ending Snow, End of Days): water, water everywhere.
The National Weather Service reported Tuesday that just below the cold, hard ground is another 17 inches of colder, harder ground.
The frost later — not to be confused with "permafrost" which will be explained in a minute — is 17 inches, deeper than in recent memory.
Here's what it means right now:
"That's almost a foot and a half of frozen ground below the surface," said Andrew Krein, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "So water is pooling on top of that now, because when the ground is frozen it can't soak into the ground. It just sits on top and puddles and makes a muddy mess."
The problem that Krein continued to explain isn't about the days when it rains. It's when it doesn't.
When the weather is nice, say around 40-50 degrees, the 17 inches of frozen ground will start to melt. Gravity doesn't pull the water down, but instead it rises up.
Why not sink down, you ask. Because of the permafrost. Think of the permafrost as "permanent frost."
"Permafrost, as most people use it, it's a misnomer," Krein said. "Permafrost is a layer of frozen ground underground that stays frozen all year long. What we have is a layer of frozen ground and a sub-layer of frozen ground above and below."
So the muddy mess that the water is sitting on now will be even muddier.
When the temperature drops below freezing at night, the frost layer stays cold. So Mother Nature will have to gift us with many days of above freezing temps for players to be able to even step on the field.
Playing in mud is more than just a dirty job. Because the mud isn't as stable as dry, solid soil, it's a breeding ground for injury.
A bad slip could mean a twisted ankle, an ACL injury or worse.
Plus, even moving the dirt around when it's mud can make for a pit-infested playing surface, because when it dries hard, it holds its mold. Footprints in the mud become a bad hop along the third-base line in a couple weeks.
Unless an artificial surface exists on, say, a football field, teams are relegated to remain inside even on the pretty days.
Rain can be a help and a hindrance. The warmth is good to help melt the frost, but the added water has to go somewhere.
The IHSAA baseball season starts with practices today. The soonest we can hope for a full day of above-freezing temps is Friday.
The likelihood of a March 31 start date is shrinking faster than the ground below us.
OK, so this is never going to happen. Still, why can't we dream?
Tradition and different climates in a corn-fed state will keep things the way they are. But boy, just the thought of a simple change makes a lot of sense to this old yellow baller.
It's the middle of March and Al Gore is still wearing leg warmers, ear muffs and an eight-inch thick cardigan. It is time to make a change in the IHSAA sport seasons.
Softball should be moved to the fall season. Volleyball should be moved to the spring season. Then, I swear, all will be right with the world.
"I think it should be done," former Andrean softball coach Russ Serrato said. "Honestly, I don't know why it wasn't that way from the beginning."
Serrato coached at Andrean for nine years, making it to state three times. Two times he was an assistant, when the 59ers won it all in 2007. Then, in 2009, as head coach Andrean was the Class 3A state runner-up.
From Broadway he went to Crown Point where he was on staff when the Bulldogs won their last sectional in 2011. The guy knows his stuff. It's amazing he isn't coaching at a local high school right now.
But Harry Reid keeps getting elected in Nevada so go figure.
"The first point is the weather, late summer and fall are perfect around here," Serrato said. "Most of the girls are coming off their summer seasons so you wouldn't need a lot of tuning up.
"It makes a heck of a lot of sense to me."
Volleyball, on the other hand, is played in hot, sticky gymnasiums in August and September. An average person starts sweating just reaching for a roster. If that game was played indoors in April and May such a thing wouldn't happen.
Start the softball season the first week of August. Play through September and start your postseason. You could have your state finals in middle October in Indy, where the weather is almost always great.
Frozen bats and girls playing softball in three layers of clothing is common in "Da Region." Wiping away snowflakes while tracking a fly ball is a regular thing. But why?
Jason Wille of the IHSAA knows our weather. He grew up in Crown Point. But he said there has never been a serious chat about changing seasons. He said the IHSAA's sports try to coincide with the college sports seasons.
There's strike one.
The other factor is that much of Indiana doesn't get the rain, snow and cold that we do. Evansville wouldn't want this. It's probably 70 there today. The Tell City softball team has already broken out the sun screen.
There's strike two and three.
Serrato also brought up the savings for maintenance crews at schools. Once this deep freeze thaws the hours of shovel and rake time is going to be gargantuan.
Baseball would be another sport better served in the autumn. But many baseball players also play football so that will never happen. Strike four.
"I also think it would generate more fans for the softball teams," Serrato said. "Who is going to go out and watch a game when it's 35 degrees? If it was 70 I think fans might go out on a nice fall afternoon to watch."
It's a great idea. It makes a ton of sense. But it will never happen.
So warm up the thermos, get out the mittens and get ready for this softball season. My guess is it will start on April 26.
If a new pair of softball spikes were purchased for the start of the start of high school season on Monday, one thing is clear: The footwear can stay in the shoebox for awhile.
And moms whose daughters play softball won't be able to tell the girls, "Stop playing ball in the house." Not this spring anyway.
The same goes for baseball spikes, golf clubs and tennis racquets.
"We need some sunshine," Crown Point athletic director Bill Dorulla said.
"We need some drying time," Chesterton athletic director Garry Nallenweg added.
Northwest Indiana has been through one if its snowiest and coldest winters in decades. And while it warmed up some on Monday, more cold and snow is predicted for Tuesday night, meaning that all of the area softball teams will prepare for the season inside.
The first day teams can play games is March 24. Baseball, boys golf and girls tennis starts practice on March 17 with games allowed to begin on March 31. It is doubtful that games in our area will begin when the IHSAA says they can, region athletic directors say.
"I don't see it happening," Dorulla said.
Nallenweg said his athletic programs are up against some challenges right now. With a state-ranked gymnastics program still competing and taking up half of the school's fieldhouse for practice, spring sports are drawing straws to for indoor practice time.
Trojans softball coach LouAnn Hopson will have her softball tryouts/practices at 6 p.m., when the fieldhouse thins out a little.
"She didn't want to have to contend with runners running around the track when she was practicing," Nallenweg said.
Both Chesterton and Crown Point have an option other schools don't. With a turf football field available, if the temperature warms up and the snow and ice melts, the baseball and softball teams will be able to use that facility for some kind of practice.
Last spring asphalt parking lots were actually used for baseball and softball practices. Class 3A semistate qualifying Hanover Central's softball team did not have one outdoor practice before the Wildcats' first game.
"And this winter was worst than last," Dorulla said.
His Bulldogs' softball team has a greater issue because the clay base was taken out for a new "ag-line" surface. But the cold, snow and moisture has not allowed the staff to finish the job.
Dorulla also said the conditions will slow C.P.'s boys golf team because area golf courses are facing the same conditions.
Crown Point's fieldhouse will be used from 5 a.m. through 9 p.m. this week and likely until the weather warms up.
"There's not a lot we can do," Dorulla said. "It was to warm up and we need some time without snow or rain. Everybody's dealing with it. We're just hoping we can these teams outside at the end of March."
If Lake Central is wrong then so is everybody else, except for Munster. And if Lake Central is right, like most others, it seems that fewer girls in Northwest Indiana will have a chance to play high school softball.
It is now up to the Office of Civil Rights in Chicago to determine who is right in the ongoing Title IX struggle at the school in St. John.
Alex Hay has two daughters, freshman Sofia and seventh-grader Gabriella. She became disturbed when she found out that Lake Central offers ninth-grade baseball for the boys but no program exists for the girls.
So she tried to speak and reason with administrators in the district. She said it went to no avail. So she filed a grievance with the OCR in Chicago, which is looking into the issue at the school.
"I grew up playing sports, I've coached it and I know how many girls play softball in this area," Hay said. "It just isn't right that girls don't have the same opportunities as the boys."
Here's where it gets sticky. With Crown Point dropping its freshman softball team this year, Munster is the only school in the region to offer a ninth-grade team. Andrean, the defending Class 3A state champ, didn't have a junior varsity team last spring.
So is the interest down in this sport? Is this another frivolous Title IX bullying tactic? No, I don't think so. With the number of girls who play softball in the Tri-Town district you could have two JV and two freshman teams.
If you wanted to.
In her complaint, Hay used numbers from the 2011-12 school year. The total enrollment was 3,257, with 52 percent being male and 48 percent being female. There were 785 athletes in the school with 59 percent being males and 41 percent females.
That's an 18 percent difference.
"And they counted the cheerleaders twice," Hay said. "According to the Office of Civil Rights, you can't count cheerleading once."
Lake Central assistant superintendent Al Gandolfi said the district is conducting a survey to see what the students actually want. He suggested intramural volleyball or lacrosse or any other items that the survey suggests would help raise opportunities in the school.
Here is one fact. Lake Central's female athletics have always been top shelf. The Indians are a power in most every sport. But that does not mean this current debate is not without its merits.
"We are trying to hear from our community; what it is they want, which is why we're doing the survey," Gandolfi said. "Once we get the results back, we will move in a direction to meet those interests."
Hay spoke at a board meeting and had a petition signed by over 100 people. She also put together a mock schedule. Freshman softball in Illinois is a offered at the bigger schools. She found 25 schools within an easy driving distance over the border that L.C. could play.
Title IX arguments usually give me a headache. I believe in the spirit of the law, but sometimes the counting of every head sends me to the cupboard for some Tylenol.
Hay played softball at Streator and attended Eastern Illinois. She says it better than I can.
"I did not do this to get my daughter on a team," Hay said. "I did it because it's wrong. If someone wouldn't have fought for me 40 years ago I wouldn't have had a shot. That's why we need to fight for the girls today."
Rich Sobilo is known for hockey, both as a coach and player. Things are about to change. The Whiting resident was named Bishop Noll's new softball coach Thursday night.
It's going to be all softball all the time for the 1983 Noll alum.
"I'm real excited," Sobilo said. "I'm not coming into a program that needs to be rebuilt. We've got almost everybody coming back and a talented group of freshmen.
"We have a lot of work to do. We fell short in a couple areas last year, and we want to improve."
Sobilo was a standout at Noll in football, baseball and hockey. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1988 and earned three letters for the Irish hockey team.
In 1989, he was an assistant on Jerry Vlasic's Class 3A state football championship team. He coached hockey at Noll from 1988 through 2002. In 1999, he led the Warriors to a Class 2A state runner-up finish.
Seven strong seniors return this year, including Elena Sobilo, his daughter and shortstop.
Outgoing Noll coach Ralph Laramie coached the Warriors for 14 springs. He believed his record was 179-141. His greatest highlight came in 2006 when his 13-15 team got hot at the right time and advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals.
He lived in Plymouth for much of his time coaching in north Hammond but he and his wife, Carol, moved to Columbia City a year ago. It was a 280-mile round trip each day.
But that wasn't why he stepped down. Carol was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had surgery last March. Taking care of her and a softball program was just too much.
"I love the game," Laramie said. "Last year was a frustrating year. I missed quite a few days taking care of my wife. We've been blessed. She's cancer free now.
"I wish I could stay one more year with the seniors. But I have to stay and take care of her as she keeps getting better."
Sobilo has a simple but affective mantra for the softball program, improve every day. Learn fundamentals so well that in a tough postseason game the letdowns will be less likely to happen.
"One of the things I want to stress is improving every day," he said. "Whether you're a manager or a boss, you have to learn something all the time. I hear things on the radio or on (television), and it may have nothing to do with sports, I'll be constantly looking for ways to make myself a better coach and our team a better team."
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