Softball practice

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka’s Jasmine Russell throws the ball after fielding a bunt during softball practice Monday.

Monday marked the first official day of practice for baseball and softball teams. Players have been together for three weeks already during the AHSAA throwing period but there was a new sense of excitement when the players took the field for a full practice less than three weeks before the first games.

 “There’s a lot of excitement right now,” Holtville baseball coach Torey Baird said. “We have been eager to get on the field as a team. You have so much time to do that small group work but we want to have that time to develop the team chemistry so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

While the throwing period brought some excitement of its own, there are plenty of changes being made to practices as teams try to get ready for the season. Drills in the opening week have included team defense, hitting and baserunning and Baird said every single one of those will play a role in choosing starters for the opening game.

“I’m looking for the guys that want to take those jobs,” Baird said. “It’s about leadership and how they carry themselves on the field. They have to hustle each and every rep. That’s how you win a job.”

Some teams are fortunate enough to have returning starters all over the field but in most cases, teams are getting back to the basics. Multiple coaches agreed when even one player graduates from a team, it has to relearn everything with the new person who fills the role.

“You’re trying to evaluate everything,” Wetumpka softball coach Daryl Otwell said. “You want to learn everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. We still have a lot of fundamental stuff to cover so a lot of stuff this week is going to be basic. We have to cram it all in to be ready to play in a few weeks.”

Otwell is one of several coaches around the county starting their first season with a new team. After spending six years at Holtville, Otwell said every transition has its challenges but it’s been a little easier because he was already familiar with some of the Wetumpka players.

“Anytime you start new with a program, it’s hard to get everybody bought in at the beginning,” Otwell said. “That’s our main focus. The girls are working extremely hard and setting some high goals.”

Stanhope Elmore baseball has a new face at the helm of its program this season as Kaleb Shuman finally took the field for his first practice. Shuman blended in with the rest of his players Monday as his excitement was on par with the rest of the Mustangs.

“I’m always like a kid on Christmas Eve the day before the first practice,” Shuman said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how much better these kids have gotten. Everybody is excited to get out and practice for the first time. The energy is high.”

The Mustangs ran through several new drills and Shuman is hoping the biggest changes come at the plate. His players competed against each other with hitting drills to open the first practice.

“I love hitting so the first thing we’re going to do is pick up a bat,” Shuman said. “The throwing period lets us get some arms in shape so we’ll get to throw some live (at-bats) and start hitting before running any other drills.”

Elmore County’s softball team is looking to make some noise under guidance of coach Terry Nicholas. He is entering his first year in charge of the Panthers and was excited to hit the field with his new team for the first time.

“We’re ready to get started,” Nicholas said. “We’re trying to see how good we can get. That’s our goal every day and I think that’s exciting. The girls are working really hard.”

One of the biggest issues Elmore County, and many other teams, face is having multiple players still in their winter sports. However, Nicholas said he is not too worried because he sees those girls are active and working on their own despite not being with the softball team yet.

“It’s not like they aren’t doing anything,” Nicholas said. “They’re going to come back in shape. We’d love to have them out there but there is benefits they get from being in basketball. It may be a little concerning now but I think two weeks in, it won’t matter.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.