The good, the wet and the canceled

Abundance of rain and shortage of umpires created challenges during switch to spring baseball

By MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff
A few high school baseball teams picked up some club players they otherwise wouldn’t have had, thanks to the WIAA’s decision to eliminate summer baseball and play the season in spring.
But the move, which affected many teams in southeastern Wisconsin, brought about a mixed bag of results. A wet spring — even by Wisconsin standards — postponed some games and canceled others, and an umpire crunch had the same effect. Umpires who used to work summer games had to add spring baseball to their schedules, which competed with girls’ softball.
For Ozaukee High School, adding a player such as Noah Miller helped key a run to the state tournament for the first time in school history. He received all-state honorable mention recognition as an infielder and made the Big East Conference and all-district first teams.
“I think it opens up additional talent to our team,” coach Steve Kowalkowski said.
Ozaukee’s run to state was also aided by the spring season since teams are split into divisions by school population. Summer baseball shrunk to so few teams that Ozaukee, a school of 200, could be playing powerhouses such as West Bend West, a school of more than 1,100.
The Warriors, however, barely got a home crowd. They played one game on their home field. A wet spot in the outfield had the team scrambling to try to find a place for home games. They ended up playing four at Kapco Park in Mequon, home of the Lakeshore Chinooks and where the WIAA held the summer baseball state tournament.
Kowalkowski said drain tile will be installed and the field will be more playable next season.
It will be slated to get more use. The Big East only had teams play each other once this season, given the short notice on switching to spring ball. Next year, the teams will play each other twice.
Even players who participated in their school’s summer baseball season have more opportunities to play competitive ball, Kowalkowski said. All-conference player Brent Hoffmann was able to join a more competitive traveling team this summer.
That’s an aspect Cedar Grove-Belgium coach Tom Race appreciates as well.
“I like it from the standpoint that it affords kids who want to play at another level an avenue to play more baseball,” he said.
“With summer ball, they can’t get on those Legion teams.”
Cedar Grove-Belgium redid its baseball field last fall and as a result was able to play home games, even in wet conditions.
After the season, Race said, more adjustments were made. Some dirt portions of the diamond were seeded, which will eliminate two hours of field maintenance before each game next season.
Practices were the issue for the Rockets.
“There were a lot of practices we had to do inside,” Race said, adding the team had to share the gym with other spring sports such as softball, soccer and track and field.
Port Washington coach C.J. Koehler said his team was one of nine schools in the state to play all of its 26 games. The state had nearly 450 teams.
“That was a pretty cool fact. I can’t thank all the grounds crews in the area enough,” he said.
That didn’t mean conditions were ideal.
“I won’t say it was miserable, but it wasn’t fun,” Koehler said.
“The kids knew it. They got used to it as the year went on. It definitely was a change of pace in the beginning of the year. We’re used to 70, 80, 90 degrees and our first game was 38 degrees.”
The Pirates did pick up college prospect George Klassen, along with Ethan Bornhoefer and Xavier Deal.
The spring season also allowed for the creation of the Summer Baseball League of Wisconsin, made up of high schools in the Milwaukee and north shore area.
“We’ve got a lot of guys playing this summer,” he said. “The hope is to develop them, get more experience and build that skill set.”
Grafton coach Brian Durst said spring ball presented challenges.
“The spring season was a struggle programwide to fit consistency as far as practice times and making sure that we had fields available and transportation available, and working with other spring programs to figure out gym space,” he said.
“But we constantly adapted and made the appropriate adjustments and ended up having a season we can be proud of.”
The Black Hawks picked up left-handed pitcher Tommy Lamb, who was an all-state honorable mention, and made the North Shore Conference and all-district first teams.
While varsity games were the priority, junior varsity teams took it on the chin.
Ozaukee’s team played four games and one inning.
“That was a little rough for the program, absolutely,” Kowalkowski said.
Port’s junior varsity team played 18 games and its junior varsity 2 played 10 — “quite a bit less than our 26,” Koehler said.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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