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Baranek: Local teams finding interior motives

03/31/2014, 8:50pm CDT
By Tony Baranek |

In the wake of a harsh winter, area softball teams are moving inside to get in some games.

Nostradamus hasn’t got anything on Julie Folliard.

Almost a month ago, the Richards coach had a feeling that between the almost nonstop bone-chilling winter temperatures and the constant barrage of snow, the softball season was going to have a difficult time getting started.

“We actually went out and shoveled our infield on a Saturday,” Folliard said. “There was still snow in the outfield and huge drifts in front of our dugouts. We couldn’t access our dugouts.

“We got out and cleared it. At that point I started thinking, ‘OK, If it doesn’t snow anymore we might be able to get out in a couple of weeks.’ But then it snowed again, and again, and at that point for sure I knew we were going to be backed up, and started calling around.”

Folliard got the Bulldogs on the inside track by calling the Max McCook Athletic and Exposition Center to schedule three games.

Smart move, because so far this season, there’s been no place like dome.

While most Southland softball teams have yet to see a field for as much as a practice, Richards is 2-1 after beating T.F. North and T.F. South and losing to Lincoln-Way Central.

Andrew, Sandburg, Oak Lawn and Bremen all have played games at the Rosemont Dome. Tuesday and Friday, Lemont has games scheduled in Rosemont against Reavis and Homewood-Flossmoor.

The price to play at McCook is approximately $300 per game, not counting umpire fees. That’s the usual cost at Rosemont, but a spring break special price of $100 per game was afforded for games from March 24 through the end of this week.

Playing indoors has its quirks.

The McCook “diamond” isn’t as much drawn up for softball as it is for soccer. The lighting is ... OK, but far from great.

“It’s definitely different,” Richards shortstop Emily Wetzel said. “The ball bounces a lot more and comes at you faster. The lights are very different (than natural light). It’s just a different atmosphere. It’s tougher to play in here, but you adjust and it gets better.”

The wall in right field wasn’t marked, but looked to be about 180 feet from home plate. If a hitter cleared the left or center fielder, the ball came back in, oh, about a minute. Halfway through the game against T.F. North, it was decided that a hit to those areas was a ground-rule triple.

Infield popups that hit the ceiling were an automatic out. If a batted ball hit the ceiling beyond second base, it was deemed a ground-rule double.

“We tried to stay as authentic as we could to realistic softball knowing fully that it wasn’t going to be realistic softball,” Folliard said. “But there’s so much value to playing games as learning tools, we thought, ‘You know, hitting the ceiling may take away some hits, but in the big picture it’s better for us to get out there and learn, even though the ball may bounce differently.’ ”

Rosemont’s dome has two fields that are much more realistic-looking. It’s 210 feet to the fence in each corner, 235 to dead center. In the Bremen-Streator game, hitting the ceiling with a batted ball was an automatic foul ball, but it didn’t happen often.

“It’s definitely different than being outside,” Bremen center fielder Lindsey Dudek said. “Against the white, when the ball is high up, is when you have to really concentrate.”

The lighting was vastly superior to McCook’s dome. Dudek was 7-for-7 on flyball catches, a couple of them highlight-reel variety.

It was fun to watch. Can’t wait to see her battle one in the sun, though.

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