Youth baseball leagues contend with soggy season

On May 5, as he prepared his players to take the field for a T-ball game in Flossmoor, coach Brian Stanley had some unusual advice for his players.
Ball players work around standing water at Homewood Heights Sports Complex at the end of May. (Provided photo from Jhames Holley)
  Ball players maneuver around
  standing water at Homewood
  Heights Sports Complex in
  late May. 
(Provided photo
  from Jhames Holley)

"Don't run into the mud," he said. "We have to dodge the water." The remains of a large puddle was between first and second bases. 

Golf courses typically have water hazards. Baseball diamonds don't, at least not by design. 

It was a sign of what the month of May would be like for local youth baseball and softball teams.

More than 8 inches of rain fell in the Chicago area during May. The amount of rain wasn't the only thing that affected the baseball season. It seemed like the rain was constant. Some rain fell on 21 of 31 days, according to the National Weather Service, and a tenth of an inch or more fell on 14 days.

The weather pattern put a damper on the youth baseball season.

"Boys and girls want to play ball and have been looking forward to do so all winter," said Jhames Holley, spokesman for the Homewood Heights Ball Club. "To say the least, it’s been disappointing."

The club's season got off to a good start with its opening day festivities under sunny skies on May 5. Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez and Sister Mary Jo Sobieck of Marian Catholic High School, something of a celebrity for her first-pitch performance at a Chicago White Sox game last year, helped launch the young organization's third season.

After that, the weather intruded.

Holley said the club had scheduled about three games per week during May and eight games per level were canceled. The weather even affected a road game.

"We also got snowed out in St. Charles in late April," he said.

For Flossmoor Baseball and Softball, the weather on opening day, April 27, could have been an omen. There was cold drizzle, sleet and a few minutes of precipitation that verged on hail. 

The teams still held their parade from Parker Junior High School to the ball fields at Flossmoor Park, although there were more umbrellas than baseball bats in evidence. 

Three Flossmoor School District 161 elementary school principals — Lisa Delaqua, Haley Marti and Ashley Holland — braved the weather to serve as grand marshals in the parade and throw out the ceremonial first pitches.

The games, though, were canceled because the fields were too soggy to use.

FBS President Fredric Mitchell said the day went well in spite of the weather. 

"We wanted to get this in. It's a tradition that's been around for 50-plus years," he said.

Sandesh Bilgi, in his ninth year as coach, said he was thrilled to see the number of people who attended in the miserable weather.

"That says a lot about the community," he said. "It's a commitment. These kids work so hard."

May proved to be almost as difficult as opening day. Mitchell said almost half the 150 or so scheduled games had been canceled. 

"The hardest part is that some of our leagues don't play as often as others. The younger kids may only play Saturday and/or Sunday, so cancellations due to weather hit them the hardest," he said.

He credited the organization's grounds crew and village workers keeping fields as playable as possible, using quick-dry material to mitigate muddy spots, although some spots in outfields proved difficult to manage because of poor drainage.

Mitchell said the FBS community has been bearing up well.

"Our Flossmoor Baseball and Softball families have been very resilient and patient with us this year," he said. 

Because families have plans already for the rest of the summer, extending the season isn't practical, so FBS and Homewood Heights are trying to schedule make-up games to compensate for the rain-outs.

Homewood Baseball and Softball is having relatively less trouble getting games in and has generally weathered the weather  well, according to Nicholas Quirke, director of communications.

Quirke credited the organization's scheduling plan and field maintenance crews for helping keep things going in spite of the rain. 

Through May 31, HBS had canceled 51 games due to weather. Most of the games were called because of rain, and five were canceled because of wet field conditions. 

"Forty of those are already made up, so we're right back on track," he said. 

He said season scheduler Dan Hoekstra leaves slots open, "so when we do have rainouts, it doesn't ruin the whole season."

The fields the organization uses have remained in good shape, all things considered, because they drain well and have a dedicated crew tending them, Quirke said.

"I'm really impressed with our field crew, which is led by Larry Kinsella. They do an unbelievable job," he said, noting that members of the crew are on site every day games are scheduled. 

Families of the 900 players in HBS leagues have been patient and understanding about the challenges the weather has presented, Quirke said.

"We've been really lucky. The parents have done a good job of adjusting their schedules," he said.

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