NORTH FULTON, Ga. — School closings due to COVID-19 have added to the long list of cancellations and postponements local baseball teams have already endured.
Atlanta saw nearly 11 inches of rain in February, more than double the monthly average covering the last 30 years. Already, the area has received about 40 percent of its annual rainfall. While the weather is wreaking havoc on all high school spring sports, baseball has been hit especially hard.
Days without rain have been sparse, and soggy fields are not getting enough time to dry out before more rain moves through. Some local programs, including Johns Creek and Cambridge, have seen nearly 30 cancellations or postponements for their freshman, JV and varsity teams in the one month since opening day.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my 25 years of coaching,” Johns Creek head coach Billy Nicholson said.
Beside lost playing time, Nicholson said one of the biggest issues the rain has brought is the domino effect cancellations.
“We can move things around, but we are seeing now that umpires may not be able to cover another game,” Nicholson said. “If they have to pull umpires off the JV or freshman game, then it creates more dominos to find another date for the freshman or JV team. There are a lot of moving pieces, and it’s a little overwhelming.”
The Gladiators also face the challenge of being one of the few programs in the area that does not have an indoor facility to use when the rain is falling. Nicholson said because of the location of the field, the city of Johns Creek and Fulton Country Schools have stipulations on the design of such a facility.
“Because of where we are, we can’t just throw up an indoor barn,” he said.
Johns Creek has been able to get some practice in at the Grand Slam Sports Center down the road from the school, which has been “very helpful,” according to Nicholson. But the team’s limited time on the field has been frustrating.
“We have had to use a lot of games as practices,” Nicholson said. “Something like a bunt coverage, you have to practice in a game situation, but if you mess it up in a game, it counts.”
Things have been a bit better for Cambridge, but far from ideal.
“We are in a fortunate spot because we’ve played 13 games (as of March 11) to this point, but that’s only because we’ve been able to use facilities that are able to handle the rain,” Cambridge head coach Evan Tieles said.
Cambridge and Johns Creek have been forced to relocate games to the LakePoint Baseball complex in Emerson, which has turf fields. Doing so does incur a cost per game, and umpires still need to be brought on board with the change in location. Cambridge has played several games at the complex, including their opening Region 7-AAAAAA matchup with Centennial, which was called in the fifth inning due to fog.
Tieles said the program is fortunate to have indoor facilities, including batting cages and portable pitcher’s mounds.
“We’ve also tried to use the football field as much as we can, but it’s difficult because you have soccer, track and field, and lacrosse going on as well,” he said. “Other than that, you just go with what you can. Sometimes we are throwing in the parking lot, we’ll do that, or we will throw in the gravel warning track if we can’t get on the field. And some days we can use the infield but not the outfield. It’s been an eventful spring.”
In Roswell, Blessed Trinity is better able to contend with the rain by having a turf field.
“Turf is the greatest invention in the history of baseball, to me anyway,” Blessed Trinity head coach Andy Harlin said.
The Titans have played in several tournaments, including the Georgia Dugout Club Tournament on LakePoint’s turf fields, and have not seen as many cancellations as their neighbors. They have still had to combat the rain, though.
“Having turf here is great for practice, but there have been times when it has been pouring the entire time and we still have to go indoors,” Harlin said. “But all baseball coaches sit down way before the season starts and figure out how you want to install stuff. Whether it’s in a gym, a batting cage or a makeshift field, you get in what you have on that schedule. We’re just trying to control what we can, no matter what else is going on outside.”