Not the sort of update I was hoping to be giving youse at this time.
Weather-weary baseball players find refuge indoors
Athletes train while seeking shelter from the storms
By JEFF GRAHAM
SPECIAL TO THE P-I
For many high school athletes, the winter represents a time for thumping basketballs on the hardwood or ankle-picking in the wrestling room. For others, it's the season for splits on the balance beam or splashing in the pool.
But what about baseball players? What are they doing to ensure they don't look like stunt doubles from "The Bad News Bears" on the first day of tryouts?
Well, they won't be heading outside. Not just yet.
Since November's record rainfall and the current cold spell have made it difficult to train outdoors, baseball players have been looking to other avenues to shake off the winter rust.
They've found the answer indoors.
From lessons at baseball centers and practicing inside with summer select teams, to taking advantage of open nights at high school gymnasiums, players work on their fitness and skills without having to brave the elements.
"There are more indoor facilities now than ever," Garfield coach Tom Riley said.
Gone are the days when baseball teams were limited to practicing their craft when weather permitted. Maintaining a high performance level requires today's top players to treat baseball like basketball blue-chippers treat their sport -- as full-time gigs.
"I'd think most of your pretty darn good baseball players are playing almost year-round," Tahoma coach Russ Hayden said.
Entering his 15th season, Hayden led the Bears to the Class 4A state semifinals last season and has five players who will play at Division I colleges in 2008, including seniors Riley Tubbs and J.R. Roland (Washington State); and David Bentrott and Kirk Wetmore (UW).
Despite playing football in the fall and basketball this winter, Tubbs' mind never strays far from the diamond.
Since October, he has met with his summer select club, Baden Baseball, at the team's facility in Bellevue. He also hits once a week with Tahoma and Baden teammate J.J. Thompson, a Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo commit.
Like Tubbs, Bentrott resumed baseball activities with his summer select club, Chaffey Baseball, after football season at Tahoma.
Training with the team each Sunday at the University of Washington's Dempsey Indoor athletic complex, he practices individually with Chaffey and hitting instructor Roy Atkinson once or twice a week.
Bentrott also recently attended open gym night at Tahoma with other Bears players looking to get an early start on the season.
He said the benefits of working on his game now are obvious.
"I need to get my skills up to par, to where they were before," Bentrott said.
"You always know someone else is working hard on the other side of town."
As is the case with select teams, indoor training centers have grown in quantity in recent years.
Riley said many of his Garfield players have been training at Strike Zone, a 10,000 square-foot facility in Seattle with eight cages available for hitting, pitching and defensive drills.
Tyler Davidson, an instructor at Strike Zone, said business has picked up in recent weeks.
"Once the new year hits, a lot of kids come in here," said Davidson, a former UW baseball player. "It's the busiest time of the year."
Bruce Johnson, owner of Field of Champions in Preston, said his facility -- which opened five years ago and features 7,200 square feet for hitting, pitching and fielding -- has seen a steady increase in customers since November.
"Every year, it starts a bit earlier," Johnson said.
With a staff of eight instructors, Johnson said his facility will host an average of 100 high school players per week from January through March, including players from Issaquah and Newport.
Issaquah coach Rob Reese, who led the Eagles to Class 3A state titles in 2000 and 2004, said tryouts will reveal which of his players put in the most training this offseason.
"Some guys go out there each day, some guys are out there once a week," said Reese, entering his 15th season with the Eagles. "You'll be able to tell on the first day whose arm is sore and who's been working."
Once the weather improves, some schools will take advantage of turf fields. Synthetic surfaces allow teams to play after -- and even during -- significant rainfall.
"It's a huge advantage for those teams with turf fields, especially early in the season," Reese said.
Newport coach Brian Fischer, whose school has had a turf infield for 15 years, has five or six dozen water-resistant baseballs he frequently uses in wet conditions.
The Knights are one of the few teams with a roofed, lighted bullpen and batting cages. Rain or shine, Newport players can head outdoors to hit and pitch at their leisure.
It's a luxury the defending Class 3A state champions didn't enjoy until seven years ago.
"We would still hit," Fischer said. "We'd just hit in the rain."
With the options available to players nowadays, that no longer seems to be a problem.