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Baseball programs left in complicated spot for restart

Since the mid-March full-scale cancellation of high school sports in Mississippi, the Mississippi High School Activities Association set June 1 as the restart date for athletics.

No further information had been given on what guidelines would be in place for programs until last Thursday when a document was published by the MHSAA detailing what restrictions would be in place for the resumption of athletic activities.

Now coaches are in a mad dash to formulate some type of plan as to how to proceed in these unprecedented times.

The MHSAA said a two week acclimatization period for the athletes would be necessary before any type of full speed practices could take place, but in most sports that’s already a given.

Neil Walther, head coach of the Pearl River Central baseball program, said it usually takes a minimum of two weeks to get a pitcher’s arm ready to go full speed, but three weeks is the optimal amount of time.

To throw any athlete back into a sport without a gradual reintroduction can lead to injury, which Walther said is what he and his staff want to avoid.

The reintroduction period will start with conditioning to get the athletes into playing shape.

The second phase of practices, and what will likely persist through the entirety of the summer for the Blue Devils, is to have positional groups come to practice and work with each other.

Not only will this allow Walther to keep the group size under the state limit, but will also allow for more one-on-one instruction with the athletes.

“I think working with individual positions will be better for us. If I spend one hour with two kids, those two kids are getting more (out of it) than if they go through four, two hour practices because then I have to deal with 20 (athletes),” Walther said.

There will be some opportunities for “live” action which is where pitchers will come in throwing heat against batters looking to get some quality time at the plate.

However, for the most part, it seems like the emphasis will be on position play and field work, which is a philosophy echoed by other baseball coaches in the county.

A guideline that threw a wrench in some plans was the prohibition of play between schools by the MHSAA.

While Picayune’s baseball team was planning on sticking with intra-squad scrimmages to give some younger athletes more reps, Poplarville was hoping to get out and go up against top tier competition this summer.

The benefits of taking part in summer ball games are numerous, but the main one is giving athletes the opportunity to gain experience on the field, especially after losing the majority of last season.

For the same reason Picayune was planning on focusing its efforts on developing young talent, PRC was hoping summer games would be available.

Walther said the summer is the perfect situation to try out some younger guys and put them in new positions to increase their experience.

Now, those plans are up in the air as the programs continue to search for the best way forward.

“It matters to the young guys more than anything because in the summer we throw those guys to the fire. I can scrimmage younger guys against younger guys, but they still won’t have a clue of what it’s like to play in a varsity game. We have a pretty good-sized freshman class and they lost a half-year of development,” Walther said.