What a difference a year can make.

What a difference a year can make.

The sunny skies and record-setting temperatures of last March were replaced by mostly cold, wet and snowy conditions this year. No one knows this better than the area's high school baseball and softball coaches, who are asking themselves whether their teams can handle this weather.

Last spring, those coaches sang the praises of being able to practice outside 15 to 20 times before the regular season began. To a person, they declared, "I've never seen anything like this."

This year's sentiments are the same -- again, it's a spring like no other -- only on the opposite end of the spectrum. Before sunny skies arrived March 28, most programs had practiced outside only two or three times.

"I've seen snow as late as mid-April, but it's always gone by the next day," said Hilliard Davidson baseball coach Jim Dougherty, who has been a head coach for 32 seasons. "But (this spring) it has stayed cold and damp for so long, the ground never gets a chance to dry out."

Spending most of the preseason practicing indoors in a gymnasium definitely will have a major impact on the field in the first couple weeks of the season, at least until the teams are outdoors with regularity. Early on, expect several areas of the game to be deficient.

Look for an advantage going to the pitchers over the hitters. Hitting off pitching machines might help with a batter's timing, but it's not the same as a ball thrown outdoors. The ball reacts differently to humidity, wind conditions and moisture from a misty afternoon. Hitters will need time to make adjustments.

Also, pitchers have the advantage of being able to build arm strength while throwing indoors. When teams are able to practice outside, pitchers sometimes are working on fielding as much as throwing to the plate.

Look for defensive play to be subpar in the first couple weeks of the season. Fielding grounders on a gym floor is much different from doing it outdoors. The ball reacts differently on the grass or dirt than on a smooth, waxed floor devoid of errant stones that can cause a bad hop. Plus, outfielders must have an opportunity to get outside and judge a few fly balls, which is difficult to practice inside.

Also, defensive positioning is different in a gym. Turning double plays will be tougher on second basemen and shortstops who have never played together before. An advantage in that area will go to players with previous varsity experience.

Look for some of the basic fundamentals to be affected as well. Little things like taking the extra base, throwing to the appropriate base or hitting the cut-off man may take time because of the lack of outdoor practices.

So, until the temperature starts to rise and the ground starts to dry, expect the play on the area's baseball and softball fields to be a little sloppier than normal. The wrinkles usually ironed out during outdoor practices or scrimmages now will spring up when games count.

If there's one good thing about the cold, wet spring, maybe it means the regular season, maybe even the postseason, will be dry, without a slew of postponements.

Play ball.