Home sweet home at last

Riley Orr pitching in recent a home game.

After months of grueling winter weather, CU’s baseball and softball fields are finally suitable to host home games.

Every year, winter’s snow and spring’s rain present problems for the fields, because the water simply doesn’t have enough time to drain by the time the regular season starts.

“Our field wasn’t playable until [April 8],” said softball head coach Eric Ramey. “We got it in good enough shape, even though it was a little soft in the outfield, we were still able to play at home.”

Not having a playable field doesn’t just restrict home games, it also inhibits the team’s ability to practice on the field. This impact is not lost on baseball head coach Ted Shipley.

“You miss out on getting comfortable with your field,” Shipley said.

He said when a team plays at home, “they know the field, they know the weather, the wind, how the sun moves. It’s not like you’re going to the same exact basketball court.”

The players also recognize the difference of practicing on your home field.

“It gives us an advantage because we know how to play the weird hops and such,” said Riley Orr, a senior pitcher on the baseball team. “From a pitching perspective it’s great to finally get on our field again and throw on our mounds. Throwing in a gym all winter is tough.”

It’s fairly well known that the early part of 2023 had a lot of inconsistent weather. For the most part, the month of March was snowier than February was.

“We were outside a lot in February, because the weather was great,” Ramey said. “Then March turned into Mother Nature’s nightmare.”

Life as a student athlete is incredibly difficult. It’s even more challenging when your schedule is constantly throwing you curveballs.

“We’re constantly doing school work on the bus and in hotels. It affects us physically because we have to sleep in a different bed before most games so you never know how you are going to sleep,” Orr said.

It gets even more complicated to play away games if the team doesn’t get a hotel to stay in.

“Some games we leave very early in the morning and travel two or more hours to play. It’s very hard to get focused and mentally ready to play when you don’t get much sleep and have to travel that morning,” Orr said.

In some scenarios where a home game is scheduled, the game might get moved to a different field – typically the other team’s home field – if the home field isn’t usable.

“It just creates unsettled schedules… we try not to change the kids’ schedules any more than we have to,” Ramey said. “It’s just inconvenient to move our home games and play on the road, and it’s even more of a disadvantage if they’re conference games.”

Although Shipley and his team don’t like to make excuses, they can’t deny the power that the home-field advantage holds.

“You’re playing against East-Conn, who won the national championship last year. We could have had them at our place – I like our chances better than having to travel three or four hours then playing them at their place,” Shipley said.

As challenging as the road-warrior lifestyle is, the teams know what to expect with northeast weather.

“You always expect with our location and weather that February and March are gonna be on the road,” Shipley said. “It hurts us when we get into April, and we’re not able to get those April home games.”

Well here we are in April, and both teams got to use their home fields in the second week of the month.

On April 8 the softball team played its first game of the season at home, and on April 11, the baseball team played its home-opener at the same time as the softball team was playing a home game.

“We had people on the hill watching both games, people were on both fences,” Ramey said. “It was a neat atmosphere.”

“It was an awesome day Tuesday with the atmosphere and all the fans that showed,” said Brayden Howrigan, who was the starting pitcher during the baseball team’s home-opener. “I was pretty surprised by how many people showed up to a mid-week game.”

Katie Gallagher pitching in a recent home game.

Howrigan tossed seven strong innings and logged 10 strikeouts, leading the way to a 5-2 Spartan win over Keene St. Orr came in for the eighth and ninth inning to close out the game with three more strikeouts of his own.

“I was pumped to get the start for our home opener as I knew we would have a ton of energy,” Howrigan said. “We were able to keep them relatively off balance all day, then Riley came in to close the door. It was a great team win.”

The team reveled in the energy that the Spartan crowd brought to that first home game of the season. The best way Orr knew how to describe that game was “electric.”

“It really gave the team a lot of confidence and adrenaline. Having the support of our school behind us makes winning even more fun,” Orr said. “I also think the walkout music boosts our confidence as well.”

Even the coaches could notice the immediate effect the crowd had on the players during that game.

“Players get energy from a variety of sources, one of which is the crowd. They wanna do well in front of their peers, so there’s a little extra concentration and focus,” Shipley said.

Time will tell if there are more home games played in front of the Spartan audience, but as the weather warms up and winter fades, it looks likely.

“It was fun to pitch in and I look forward to more home games coming up,” Howrigan said.

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