ADAMS TWP — Mars baseball coach Brian Hobaugh almost couldn’t believe it. Traveling 630 miles to play a team that’s in the same county.
The Planets have gone south to start their season for over a decade. When Hobaugh checked the schedule, Mars’ first three games at the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C. will be against teams from Pennsylvania.
The Planets will play Moniteau, Laurel Highlands and Whitehall (Lehigh County).
“Isn’t that weird? They set the schedule,” Hobaugh said. “It’s not like we set it. There are about 40 teams down there.”
Mars is one of five area teams avoiding the weather issues that pop up every spring in Western Pennsylvania.
Getting the fields ready for the first day, not to mention finding practice time before the season, is difficult.
The Moniteau softball and baseball teams and A-C Valley’s softball team will also make the trip to Myrtle Beach.
This winter has been particularly unkind.
Pittsburgh has received 61.4 inches of snow so far this winter according to the National Weather Service, well above the average of 41.9 inches. This February was the 21st snowiest on record.
Before this season, Mars went to Columbia, S.C. for the same setup. Hobaugh said this setup is a lot more organized.
“Believe me, the kids love it,” Hobaugh said. “We are hoping to have some nice team bonding and some other things we couldn’t do on the field here.”
Mars’ junior varsity teams will play two games against teams from New Jersey. Hobaugh said these trips have made the teams better prepared.
“I remember before we started going, our first game would be a section game in the first or second week of April,” Hobaugh said. “We’d have games with things riding on it without playing games before it.”
Dan Beebe’s trip to check on the softball field’s condition at Moniteau High School proved impossible.
Getting to the field wasn’t an issue. Removing the infield tarp was another matter.
“It was frozen to the ground and I couldn’t pick it up,” Beebe said. “The winter weather keeps getting harder each year.”
That made raising the money for spring training essential for Moniteau junior pitcher Taylor Hasychak.
Throughout the year, Hasychak raised money through hoagie and pizza sales and spaghetti dinners.
All worth it for an opportunity to get good conditions to practice in. A break from the weather doesn’t hurt, either.
“It definitely helps get the rust out,” Moniteau junior pitcher Hasychak said. “It is hard coming back from the warm weather to the freezing cold.”
Fourth-year A-C Valley softball coach Corrina Sternthal was sick of dealing with the early-season field conditions.
Senior leftfielder Kayla Cratty remembers what it was like her freshman year.
“We could hardly get outside because of all the mud,” Cratty said. “It’s hard practicing game situations in the gym.”
Sternthal got the idea from the Falcons’ baseball team, which used to go to Florida every season.
Going down there guarantees her team will get more reps in. This will be the Falcons’ third straight spring opening up outside the Keystone state.
A-C Valley went to the Disney Sports Complex in Kissimme, Fla., for two seasons before opting to switch to Myrtle Beach this year.
Sternthal has already seen the impact on her program. She feels that her younger players benefit from the team bonding.
All varsity games played count against each team’s total for the season.
Playing teams from different states also gives the Pennsylvania teams tough competition. Other states, especially in the south, start the season earlier, so those teams are in the middle of the season.
“I think that made us step up our game. When we lost to those teams, we got down on ourselves,” Falcons senior second baseman Gabby Rankin said. “When we came back, we were more comfortable.”