Winter storm spoils start of spring sports

Paul Blanchard has waited for winter to end and baseball season to begin in Minnesota for over 30 years. As a player at the University of Minnesota in the early 1980’s to his current post as the head coach of the Southwest Minnesota State University baseball team, he has seen the battle between the seasons play out enough times to know that spring will win out eventually. Blanchard just can’t remember it taking this long.

“We’ve had years where its been a long time before we got out and we’ve had the snow in April, but it was a one shot deal where you get a snow storm most of the day and it was done,” Blanchard said. “It would get warm and the snow was gone in a couple of days. It stayed wet for a long time, but the snow was usually gone. But this is just incredible. It starts on a Tuesday morning and ends on a Thursday afternoon. That’s the unusual part for me is to see this over the course of three full days.”

As a winter storm rolled through the upper Midwest wiping out the area’s spring sports schedule for the week, it also forced the cancellation of SMSU’s home doubleheader with the St. Cloud State University Huskies on Wednesday. Of their 25 games so far this season, not one has taken place at Alumni Field.

“We were all set last Monday to put the backstop net up, then it was going to be Friday, then the weather started turning bad.” Blanchard said. “It’s frustrating. The field was going to be ok, but with this hitting, and the temps aren’t supposed to be 50 until a week from Friday, that’s not going to help. I feel bad for the players, the seniors.”

In 2007 the Mustangs had their first home game on April 25, playing games in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Florida before taking the diamond in Marshall. This season it may be even later.

Although SMSU has home doubleheaders scheduled with Minnesota State-Mankato on Sunday and the University of Sioux Falls on Wednesday, a drastic warmup would be needed. And even in that case, Alumni Field would not be playable.

SMSU could be able to use Augustana University’s Ronken Field, as they have already this spring, but Blanchard and his team are eager to play on their own field.

“That’s the frustrating part, you’d like to be able to sleep in your own bed to get up and play ball,” Blanchard said. “We practice there all fall and you know your park, you want to have that home-field advantage. When this sort of thing happens you get those taken away and you end up being road warriors and it gets old after awhile.”

The best chance remaining chance for a Mustang home game would be the final weekend of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular season. SMSU is scheduled for home doubleheaders May 3-4 with Minnesota-Crookston.

“I feel bad for the players,” Blanchard said. “They’ve trained all fall and winter and most of the spring to be able to play here, now this hits and you can’t do anything. We’ve just got to hope that mother nature gets the sun out here and warms up quick.”

Along with baseball; softball, golf and track and field have all seen their seasons put on hold.

Marshall girls’ track and field coach Marie Sample spent time earlier this month with team parents clearing snow off the track at Marshall Middle School so her team could practice. The track is again blanketed, forcing Tiger practices back indoors.

“Our home meet is supposed to be Tuesday, after this storm is over we’re going to try and clean up the track and see if we can’t have a meet,” Sample said. “That’s the plan, hopefully gather after this storm is over. My whole thought is I have to out-coach all the other coaches that are in the same situation because basically the whole state is in our situation.”

Unlike a majority of teams in the area, the Tigers have already had two competitions this season. The Marshall boys’ and girls’ track teams competed at indoor meets in Mankato on March 21 and March 25, but have only been practicing since. Similar to the SMSU baseball team, the Tigers could find themselves waiting awhile to return to competition unless a serious warmup occurs.

The Tigers do have a home meet scheduled for Tuesday and an away meet in Watertown, S.D. on April 19, but if those are both canceled Marshall may wait until April 30 in Brookings, S.D. to return to competition.

“Honestly our kids have had great workouts,” Sample said. “We had the track open for a couple weeks now. We’re fortunate to have the high school and that little track in there.

“The real kicker is trying to keep the kids excited about it because they’ve been working really hard and their not getting a chance to go out and see where they’re at. That’s the most discouraging part for me. I want them to be able to go out and measure what they’ve been doing.”

It’s not just spring sports that have been effected either.

The SMSU football team began spring practices on April 1 at the Regional Event Center in Marshall and were scheduled for 15 practices outdoors during the month, culminating in the Spring Game on April 27. Heavy snow canceled classes at SMSU and forced the Mustangs indoors this week.