published Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Rain adds to Chattanooga region high school baseball costs

The Internet has become another tool for baseball coaches in their battle with the weather, joining field tarps, strategically placed French drains and mule mix.

"I guarantee you every coach in the area has a phone or an iPad where he can look up the weather. We even check it during practice," Signal Mountain coach Bumper Reese said.

Whether it's by phone or an I-pad, area high school baseball coaches begin checking the weather -- both forecasts and radar -- if a dark cloud pops up on the horizon.

"Everybody uses something different -- AccuWeather, Channel 3, the Weather Channel -- but you play at a field so long you know where the rain's coming from," Bradley Central coach Travis Adams said. "To be honest, I usually call [Ooltewah's] Brian Hitchcox. If they're getting it, I know we probably will before long."

Soddy-Daisy coach Jared Hensley didn't postpone his game with Bradley this past Monday until 4:15.

"We were checking the radar every five minutes. We'll check it throughout the day if there's a chance of rain. And then if it does rain we'll just throw a couple of bags [of mule mix] on it," he said with a laugh.

There are variations of the product for pre- and postgame infield use to a quick-dry form that is made solely to soak up water.

"You need all of them (mule mix, drains and a tarp)," Reese said. "A lot of the fields around [Chattanooga] have the field conditioner on them."

After Monday's rains, one of the Signal coaches was able to get on the field by mid-morning Tuesday to drag the field and it was playable that afternoon, "whereas 10 years ago you were lucky if you played in two days," Reese said.

"A lot of times nowadays it's the timing of the rain and what you have to be careful of. If umpires show up at the field, you have to pay them whether you play or not."

Expenses are high enough without having to pay umpires for games that don't get played.

"Umpires last season cost us about $4,500," Red Bank's Trey Hicks said. "You try to break even on paying the umpires from what you get from gate receipts. We made $300 the other day, but [gate receipt money] is probably $150-$200 on the average. If you're trying to get by on gate receipts and concessions you're probably having a pretty tough time making it."

Bradley played at home against Soddy-Daisy in what is usually a guaranteed money-maker Tuesday night.

"It was sprinkling and it was 35 degrees and the wind was blowing," Adams said. "Who, other than parents that have a kid playing, is going to come?"

Rain makes it expensive to play baseball. The balls, which can be ruined quickly if they get too wet, average $60 per dozen. The field conditioner runs somewhere around $20 per bag. Grass seed, fertilizer and mowing equipment also are needed. One team is looking at installing drainage after the season, and do-it-yourself estimates are $5,000, which is about the same as a good tarp.

"For those that don't have them, it's expensive to get," Hicks said of the tarps.

Hixson is trying to buy a new one -- the one it has is worn and has rips and holes, rendering it virtually useless -- but the program still is at least $1,500 short of the fundraising goal.

"If you don't have one you're at the mercy of Mother Nature," Adams said.

"It's been a bad spring to be without a tarp," said Polk County's Michael Carter, whose field covering was ripped in half by winds the second day of the preseason. "Insurance just processed the check yesterday."

He's ahead of the game, though.

Bradley Central lost its tarp during Monday's storms when high winds picked it up and slammed it first off the backstop, which brought down a pole that holds up the backstop netting, and then got hung on the third-base dugout.

"We had everything on the tarp but the kitchen sink [to hold it down]," Adams said. "We've made some temporary repairs, but we're getting estimates. The tarp was new -- this was the first time we'd put it down -- and it's ruined. It was like a bad dream.

"It seems like the weather has been more extreme. We're used to the cold and the wet, but when you mix in the wind, you just never know. I was holding on to the tarp, trying to keep it down, and it pulled me across the infield like I was skiing.

"Baseball coaches have a lot of extra work," Adams adde. "It's not like basketball where a coach says, 'Hey, let's go sweep the floor and practice.'"

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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