When I was young, I was taught that April showers will bring May flowers. I’m not sure about those May Flowers, but I do know that in 2018 everyone received way more than their share of April showers this month. Even some inches of snow have been known to fall here and there over the years. But the inch or two or three of ice that was dropped here this month resulted in longtime baseball coaches saying they had never seen anything like it.
By count, the lowest number of baseball and softball games ever have been played throughout both New Hampshire and Vermont this spring to date. Some schools were lucky enough to get a game or two in before the ice came, but there was a ten-day period where there were no games played. Somehow the two Springfield teams were able to sneak in a game at Windsor.
I was quite sure there has never been anything like this before, but just be sure I turned to three old-timers – young old-timers – to fill me in and to tell a few tales along the way.
The number of games played by Tuesday, April 24 morning as I sat down to write, ranged from the five games played by the Springfield softball team to one single game in the books for both the Green Mountain baseball team and the Black River softball team.
Spring has notoriously been known as every athletic director’s nightmare, but it is much worse this time around.
The three veteran baseball coaches I visited were, in order of years of service on the diamond, Hank Beecher of Fall Mountain with 37 years, Bis Bisbee of Bellows Falls with 32 years, and Richie Wyman of Springfield with 22 years. If you counted, you know that adds up to 91 years of experience, and that means 91 times to live through preparing for a season of baseball in the spring in New England.
Hank Beecher, who lived in Surry, N.H. for many years, has moved closer to Fall Mountain in retirement and now lives in Walpole and keeps track of what is going on locally. He told me, “Fall Mountain is lucky to have a second field choice, so they could have a home game. Frank [Brown] does such a good job with taking care of the field [at the Hubbard Complex in Walpole] they are ready to go.”
Beecher remembers how difficult the decisions can be to play or not to play in April. “I remember disagreeing with our AD one year about playing a game in April against Springfield. They came, and it was so cold. By the time it was the second inning, the umpires said we can’t keep playing. I felt bad they had to make the trip at all.”
Beecher went on, “We had some cold springs over my years, but we never had anything like this,” in reference to the frigid temperatures the area saw the first couple weeks of April.
“Baseball coaches become sort of programmed,” he continued. “There are very few days outside early, but by the time of April vacation, you usually had a place to practice and play, but there were certainly times when we went back to the gym.”
Beecher remembers one very difficult springtime trip to Newport. He related, “I think it was opening day, and the bus dropped us off at the field down by the river and brought the softball team to their field and stayed there. This is before they had any dugouts at the baseball field. Early in the game, it started sleeting and the umpires called the game. A little while later, when the last parents were leaving, I asked them to please go to the softball field, and tell the driver to come pick us up. About 45 minutes later, our bus arrived. It was so cold, and everyone was really soaked.” Beecher estimated that the fields were about 4 miles apart.
The former Wildcat coach sat idle for a summer or two after stepping down at Fall Mountain. Eventually someone came knocking on his door, and the veteran coach can now be found each summer coaching the New England Elite 14 year olds, which has allowed him to more than keep his foot in the door.
Bis Bisbee was present at Hadley Field for one of the most bizarre baseball events to ever take place in these parts. The Terriers were hosting Brattleboro on an extremely cold April day. It was of those numbing low scoring April days where players, coaches, and fans alike were doing every thing they could possibly do to keep warm. All of a sudden, a fire emerged in the Brattleboro dugout.
You couldn’t say one broke out; it was actually set. Famed Brattleboro coach Andy Natowich was not at all pleased with the playing conditions and to gain any advantage that he thought he could, he gathered up branches and anything else he could find and started a fire in the dugout trash can. I remember seeing the picture, which ran in The Brattleboro Reformer, with the flames extending out of your typical green public trashcan.
No one enjoys inside baseball or softball, which is the norm before spring teams can move outside, and all gyms are not created equal for practices at this time of year. Just ask Bisbee.
When he arrived in Vermont, as a fresh face out of Appalachian State, Bellows Falls High School had not acquired the ‘Union’ tag yet. The school was housed on School Street in Bellows Falls – the present Bellows Falls Middle School building.
Bisbee came to town as a gym teacher and the varsity baseball coach. His indoor practices were held in the smallest setting in the area during his inaugural season. One season later, Bellows Falls Union High School offered the best indoor facilities for practice. Bisbee is the perfect living example living through the best and the worst. It was his luck the worst was for only one season.
“Talk about small gyms,” he said, “that was really small. It’s a good thing we had some pitchers that year. [David] Naski and [Moe] Haskell were pretty good. We didn’t have a batting cage, and we used whiffle and tennis balls to practice with. Who wouldn’t remember that?” He went on to say, “Gym baseball was a drag, but it is something everyone has to live through.”
Although Holland Gym was a welcome sight, it also had some baseball drawbacks, especially the glass windows at the outside end of the gymnasium. “We tried to cover them the best we could, but the baseball would still sometimes find the windows.”
Three other things that stood out to Bisbee and his baseball coaching days were:
- The right field sun. “The first thing you thought about wasn’t whether it would be cold or how well the field had dried out. You would see if the sun was out. Right field could be awful.”
- The coach uniforms. “I didn’t wear a uniform. You had to wear one to coach third base, but I didn’t believe in adults coaching third base. That was part of learning to be a baseball player.”
- The players’ uniforms. “I remember the uniforms we had when I first came to town. They were purple and gold. Gerry Curcuru used to call them Manchester purple. They really stood out.”
I usually refer to Richie Wyman every year because in the near decade I have sat in this chair, he has had the final word on when the spring season will begin. Other coaches hem and haw about when they will get out. Wyman was always blunt and to the point: the date would April 8. “They were on the field on that date this year, but then more came. We have never had a year like this,” Wyman said.
The former Cosmo leader told me that there was a jamboree at Stevens one year that stood out him. Stevens coach Ralph Silva would always hold this event each spring at Barnes Park and invite numerous teams. Once it started, Silva never wanted it to stop. He had “the show must go on” kind of mentality.
Wyman said, “I remember the year it snowed during the jamboree and Ralph wouldn’t stop. We were playing baseball, and there was over an inch of snow on the ground. We just kept playing. After the game, I thought it was going to stop, and the family and I went over to a restaurant near Green Mountain High School. When we got there, the snow started getting heavier. We had thought there wasn’t going to be a problem traveling, but by the time we got home, there were eight inches of snow on the ground. And we almost didn’t get home.”
Baseball season, huh?
The former Cosmo coach also remembered one other early season weather situation when Springfield was scheduled to host Mount Saint Joseph one early season Saturday morning. “I thought we would play that day, but when I woke up on Saturday and went down to the field, the ground was frozen solid. I had the Kangas boys on the team that year, and I can remember Tim was furious we couldn’t play that day. I took a baseball out and threw it onto the ground and it actually bounced.”
Monday and Tuesday this week saw baseball and softball games galore. That is good news. However, looking at the advanced weather forecast, the next good weather day is Friday. If fields can dry out by then, following a two-day soaking, possibly more games can be played.
If you see your town’s athletic director acting strange and moving around, you may not be able to figure out what he is doing. But, you know one thing for sure; he is not doing a rain dance.