South Jersey baseball teams scramble to deal with 'terrible' weather

Umpire,Jim Tumolo, Washington Township catcher Anthony Buffone and West Deptford batter Rick Templeton enjoy a rare day outdoors.

There was something strange about West Deptford’s baseball scrimmage at Washington Township on Monday afternoon.

It wasn’t snowing.

It wasn’t raining.

Players weren’t jumping around in the dugout, blowing on their hands and counting the minutes until they got home and sat down in front of a bowl of hot soup.

“First scrimmage, it snowed from the second inning on,” West Deptford coach John Oehler said. “Second scrimmage, it snowed from the second inning on. Third scrimmage, freezing rain from the second to the fifth.”

The Eagles have been lucky. Same goes for the Minutemen.

Both teams have made it outside several times through the first two-plus weeks of the preseason, thanks to home fields that have drained well despite record-setting moisture in February and three Nor’easter storms in March.

“We got outside and we froze,” said Washington Township’s Lorenzo Morello, a senior outfielder and pitcher. “It’s global warming. We get outside, it’s 40 degrees and with the wind chill it feels like 30 degrees.

“Or it’s 30 and it feels like 20. It’s no weather to play baseball in. You feel like you can’t get loose.”

Camera icon Akira Suwa/For the Inquirer
Washington Township centerfielder Lorenzo Morello during Monday’s scrimmage vs. West Deptford.

Most baseball teams have been stuck inside, working in the cages or running drills in gymnasiums. And with another major storm on the horizon — plus the long-range forecast calling for still another one not long after that — some squads will be scrambling to get in more than a few outdoor workouts before opening day March 31.

Seneca had been outside once before Monday’s scrimmage at Pennsville. “It has been terrible,” Seneca coach Jay Donoghue said. “Luckily our indoor facilities are pretty decent. We got out for a scrimmage [vs. Cinnaminson] Saturday, so that was a big relief.”

Rich Bender has been Delran’s baseball coach since the mid-1970s. He has spent a lot of time indoors with a lot of teams. But this preseason has been in a class of its own, Bender said.

“I’ve just about exhausted 43 years of coaching-inside drills and next-up wiffle-ball tournaments,” Bender said.

Cherokee worked outside Monday for just the third time this season. “It has been tough but most of us have been in the same boat,” Cherokee coach Marc Petragnani said.

Cherry Hill West coach Dan McMaster said the Lions have been outside a few times, thanks to a field that holds up to the weather.

But they’ve still spent more than enough time at the old Coliseum in Voorhees.

“We’ve gotten on the field a few times, but mostly it’s just trying to be creative indoors,” McMaster said.

Washington Township coach Bill Alvaro Jr. said the Minutemen have managed to get outside on their field, which drains about as well as any grass-and-dirt facility in South Jersey.

“I could water this field today,” Alvaro said before Monday’s scrimmage.

Camera icon Akira Suwa/For the Inquirer
West Deptford and Washington Twp. squared off Monday in a baseball scrimmage.

But the coach already was planning on indoors sessions Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, with hopes of getting back outside Friday and hosting a quad scrimmage on Saturday.

“It’s a tough situation,” Alvaro said. “We’re lucky. We’ve gotten outside. But the weather’s been brutal.”

Cape-Atlantic League teams have fared a little better than teams farther North, mainly because the shore area got less snow in the March 7 storm that walloped some sections of Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties.

“We were able to get outside at the end of last week,” Mainland coach Billy Kern said. “We played three scrimmages, Thursday-to-Saturday. But it was cold!”

Kern said the Mustangs were going to sneak in another scrimmage Monday, then scurry back inside with the rest of the baseball teams in South Jersey.

“This [next] storm should shut us down until the end of the week,” Kern said.

St. Augustine Prep has found a way to beat the weather. The Hermits are leaving Thursday for four days in Myrtle Beach, S.C. — provided their flight isn’t canceled.

Oehler stood in the sunshine in front of the visitors’ dugout before Monday’s scrimmage against  Washington Township in a clash of teams that met in the final of the Gloucester County tournament last season.

It was a bright day, with a gentle breeze. It was around 50 degrees.

Some years, it would feel a little chilly. By the standards of March  2018, it was balmy.

“You can only stand so much baseball inside,” Oehler said. “You go crazy. You need the field, you need the distance. You have to get outside to play this game.

“You spend too much time inside, all you hear is the ball hitting off the bleachers. You lose your mind.”