ILWACO/NASELLE — For much of the world, waking up in the springtime is a glorious experience. The sun is coming up, the sky is blue. The world is full of wonder.
But on the Peninsula and the Naselle Valley, the experience is a bit different, especially for local baseball and softball players and coaches.
A look out the window will often be gray and windy, with maybe a little rain sprinkle on the glass.
“It’s okay, they won’t call off the game for a little sprinkle!” they tell themselves as they bring up a website on their phone that predicts weather by the hour. The little cloud icon turns to rain by 1 p.m. Another game postponed.
“It’s the first thing I do every day during the season. I have to plan practice around it too,” said Naselle softball coach Bekah Wirkkala.
So why are so many games canceled? Football plays in the rain. So does track and field — well, usually. North Beach had to cancel a middle school track meet due to water over the track earlier this season.
This year has been different than most. The IHS golf team has had matches canceled due to extreme weather — and they play in everything!
“We normally play in all conditions but have had some cancellations,” said IHS golf coach Bob Enos. “Normally, we get notice in advance about courses not being playable because of standing water. We have been canceled twice as we were leaving the school but only once on the way to a match have we had to turn around.”
The Ilwaco softball team has already had nine of their games postponed — more than half of their schedule so far.
“This year is unique,” said IHS softball coach Randy Bloom. “It has been hard for the whole league. Almost all the teams are young. South Bend is starting a new team. That would be much harder than the position we are in.”
But, he added, “Obviously we have spent more time in the gym than I would like.”
“It’s a tough year this year. I can’t remember since I’ve been coaching here (1999) of a year so consistently bad,” said Naselle baseball coach Randy Lindstrom, whose team has so far had six games postponed due to weather.
Canceled again today, doesn’t look great for tomorrow
And it isn’t that baseball or softball teams won’t play in the rain. But when the ball fields for both schools drain as poorly as they do, a sloppy field can lead to otherwise avoidable injuries.
“It’s rough for us since our field is built on a swamp, basically,” said Lindstrom, only half-joking. “It needs two to three days to dry out to even get on it.”
The Comets have practiced on the field only once and played one game on their field, last month. Otherwise they’ve been in the gymnasium or in the batting cages.
“We were cancelled again today, and doesn’t look great for tomorrow either,” he lamented.
The Lady Fishermen had their game last Thursday with South Bend postponed due to poor field conditions, despite the fact that the weather was dry all afternoon.
And for a young team, like NHS softball, the best way to get better is to play as much as they can, as often as they can.
“Absolutely, it has affected our team,” said Wirkkala. “ It requires us to all have a flexible schedule.”
She added, “It is definitely worth it when you love the game.”
Making the call
In Major League Baseball, it is the chief of the umpiring crew who ultimately makes the call to postpone or cancel a game due to weather. At the high school level, that decision falls to each home team’s school athletic director. In Naselle, that task falls to Brian Macy.
“This spring has been a pain!” he said last week. “I just have to reschedule everything!”
Macy said that on game days he will look at weather reports and communicate with coaches and the people who maintain the baseball and softball fields — Lamar and Regan Wirkkala — to determine whether or not the fields will be playable.
“Together we make a decision about playing,” he explained.
Dealing with rescheduling games can also be a challenge, as the clock is continually ticking down to the end of the school year, but he said that rescheduling league games always take precedent over non-league games.
Solutions to the problem?
“In reality, we should be starting a month later and playing a little after school is out,” said Wirkkala when asked for possible solutions to the rainout problem, noting that fall sports begin practices and sometimes have games prior to the start of the school year.
Wirkkala suggested that spring sports not begin until the end of March instead of the end of February, when the time change hasn’t even sprung forward yet. She conceded that her idea may be complicated with graduating seniors, but, “They may think it’s worth it though to have nicer weather. Plus, they would just have sports, not school.”
Ultimately, a timing change wouldn’t work because the governing body of high school athletics in Washington, the WIAA, would likely not be interested in adjusting their state playoff schedules to after the school year.
So if you can’t move the schedule into the less terrible weather, perhaps the answer is a field that can handle, said terrible weather.
In Astoria, an old landfill was turned into CMH Field sports complex in 2014, with turf fields for football, soccer, baseball and softball.
“We were very fortunate to have gotten in a couple games across the river on the turf complex at CMH,” said coach Lindstrom.
Granted, neither Naselle nor Ilwaco have the $8 million that particular project cost, but maybe there are other options?
“(We) need to get a grant writer to get us something put together to try and get a turf infield built,” said Lindstrom. “That would be a solution to our coastal friend the rain cloud.”
The coach said his son Ethan has begun looking into the cost of a turf infield and what grants are available as a project for one of his classes.
“He will be getting some info together,” said Lindstrom. “We have talked with the district about a new field at the actual school for years.”
He said they had a meeting a month ago and addressed it again and began talking about the idea of a turf infield for their current field.