Excitement grows as players return to the diamond

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald

Wetumpka returned to the baseball field last week for its first practices of the season.

High school baseball teams officially got their seasons started last week when players were allowed to return to the field for organized practice. Wetumpka coach Michael Dismukes did not try to downplay the excitement of getting his team back together to start hitting and fielding.

“It’s been very exciting,” Dismukes said. “It’s like Christmas morning for us. We’re ready to get on the field and looking forward to moving around and catching some balls out here.”

That same feeling has been expressed from coaches across the county. Michael Byrd has seen expectations rise during his tenure as coach at Elmore County and he believes this week could be the start of a special season.

“It has been real exciting for us,” Byrd said. “We have some players who have been in the program for a while. Last season, I think we tripled our win total from the year before and we think we have a chance to do something that has not been done at this school in a long time.”

No matter how high the expectations are for a team, coaches said they have to start back at the basics to get players ready for the season. Bunting, baserunning and fielding drills were often seen on the field throughout the opening week of practice.

“Early on, it’s about fundamentals,” Dismukes said. “If we can play fundamentals, we’re going to be OK. We have to be fundamentally sound and then progress from there.”

While the basics are important for all players, the challenge may be keeping high school athletes focused while repeating the same drills. Stanhope Elmore coach Wes Dunsieth said his team is having to work back up from the ground floor but there has to be time for new drills too.

“You have to mix it up so they don’t get bored,” Dunsieth said. “We try to throw some new things at them. They have stuff they know they have to do every day but we give them something new to work on every day too.”

Dismukes said working on baserunning can be a crucial part in a team’s success. Thursday, Wetumpka worked on situational baserunning for almost an hour, including hit-and-runs and sacrifice bunting.

“That’s how you manufacture runs,” Dismukes said. “If we can’t handle the bat and move some runners over, it’s not going to work out for us. We can’t rely on the three-run homers. We have to put ourselves in great positions to score some runs.”

After the opening week of practice, several teams already held scrimmages at practice. Dunsieth said the Mustangs got three scrimmages in during the first week so the players could get some live looks at the plate.

Wetumpka got a scrimmage during Monday night’s practice. Dismukes said getting those situations in during a competitive atmosphere can help and the players enjoy it more than a regular practice.

“The grind of the offseason can be tough,” Dismukes said. “They’re ready to start throwing and hitting and competing. They want to scrimmage every day if they could but that’s tough to do.”

While the excitement continues to build toward the opening day of the season, the coaches are trying to take advantage of the limited practice time they have. Only three weeks separate AHSAA’s official first day of practice and the first game day plus teams will often have to deal with rain and other weather factors while preparing for the season.

“We always feel rushed,” Dismukes said. “We don’t feel like we have that much time. We’re really only looking at 12 to 14 days to get ready for the season so we have to be efficient with our time.”