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When the Valley City State University baseball and softball teams take the field in late February or early March for their first games of the year, their coaches generally don't expect perfection in the field.
It's simple reasoning â€” typically the teams are stuck indoors due to winter weather and it isn't until just before those first games that players get to see live fly balls and ground balls.
"Those first games outside have always been a bit of a challenge for us," said VCSU baseball coach Casey Olney. "There's just things you can't really work on in the gym."
But a mild winter within Valley City this year gave both teams a chance to practice outside last week on the turf at Shelly Ellig Field, the school's football and track and field complex.
The softball team spent about an hour outside Thursday and the baseball team followed suit Friday for work that largely consisted of work on fly balls, ground balls, with bits of long toss and other defensive work.
For both Olney, who has been at VCSU since 2005, and softball coach Chad Slyter, who is entering his ninth season at the helm, it's the first time either of them have gotten out of the gym this early in the year.
"It's good for us to get out," Slyter said, "even for just getting out of the gym to break up the monotony of being inside."
Although some of the work that was done outside had a similar feel to some of the indoor work, Slyter said it gave a much better chance to work on the basics of fielding off a grass type surface, which gives more of a "true ground ball feel."
"We can get a pretty good defensive set (indoors), but a lot of the fundamental ground ball and fly ball type stuff, we have to wait outside to get," he said.
Olney said it also gave the players a chance to work in a more familiar environment and allowed players to use real baseballs, compared to the softer practice balls indoors.
"For anybody whose played baseball, it's an entirely different feel being outside in an open space with the backgrounds that you're used to," Olney said.
Both coaches are hoping for temperatures in in the mid-30 degree range, which would allow for further ventures outside.
Even if they don't make it out again, though, Olney hopes even one extra outdoor practice will pay off before the seasons start in a few weeks.
"I'm hoping that it does help us, but I can't really say how much it will," Olney said.