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Rainy Daze

Coaches in Region Deal With Unusual Problems Because of El Nino


Players roll out of bed and head immediately for the window, checking the sky for dark clouds.

Coaches hurry to their fields before the school day begins, hoping to mop up any standing water that remains from the previous day's showers.

The routine, so familiar in other parts of the country, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment for high school baseball and softball teams in this normally arid region.

This spring, El Nino is threatening to turn the season on its head.

"I had a feeling it was going to be pretty bad," said Jack Cassel, a senior pitcher at Kennedy High. "Basically, it's always in the back of your mind--are we going to play?"

The answer was a definitive "no" on Tuesday, when teams from the region were scheduled to play more than 50 games on diamonds from Burbank to Carpinteria. An afternoon storm forced the postponement of all but a handful of those games.

Wednesday was almost as dismal.

With forecasts calling for even more rain into next week, frustrations are mounting.

"The kids are excited about playing and when you have games rained out, it makes an impact," said Steve Harrington, coach of the Chaminade softball team. "It even effects me as a coach. We get very disappointed."

There are physical ramifications, too. Rainouts are probably roughest on baseball pitchers who tailor their workouts for the next scheduled start.

"It screws you up because we don't know what to shoot for," Cassel said.

When skies are dark and ominous on game day, the senior right-hander must remind himself: " 'We're playing, we're playing, we're playing' [because] if you think you won't play, but then you do play, your head's not right for the game."

Rained-out practices can be just as troublesome. Players worry about staying sharp at the plate and in the field.

"We had one game when we didn't get to practice the day before," said Cindy Ball, a Camarillo senior. "That's kind of hard."

Most games that cannot be played are rescheduled for another day. If the rains continue, that could create a logjam later in the season.

"They'll cram all the games at the end," Ball said. "If you play too much with no rest, you're going to get hurt."

So coaches are doing everything possible to complete games between the storms that seem to pass through at least once a week.

On mornings after a downpour, Poly baseball Coach Chuck Schwal starts his groundskeeper routine at 8 a.m.

"If you want to get a game in, you have to get all the standing water off the field," Schwal said. "We do it with towels."

Then he visits the agriculture classes to borrow as many rakes as possible. Students who want extra credit help him with the pain-staking task of raking and reraking damp basepaths.

"You've got to have some sun to really get it dry," Schwal said. "Wind helps, too."

Finally, the coach attaches a drag to the back of his truck and smooths the dirt. If he's lucky, he will be done by 3 p.m.

On days when the field is not playable, coaches try to keep their teams fit with indoor workouts.

"Today, the track team and my pitchers were on one side of the gym," Schwal said on a recent stormy afternoon. "My infielders and outfielders were on the other side jumping rope and doing sit-ups. The volleyball team was waiting. Tennis came in, took one look and left."

Meanwhile, athletic directors from each school try to find a day when both teams are available for a make-up game.

Sometimes it will be the very next afternoon. Sometimes the teams do not have an open date in common until a month later.

"It's hard to plan so far ahead," said Andrea Rochetti, coach of the Chatsworth softball team. "The weather changes so fast."

And there is no guarantee that the schools can find officials to work on the new date because so many umpires fill their daily calendars at the beginning of the season.

That doesn't leave room for make-ups. It also means umpires can't recoup lost wages.

For a high school baseball game, they are paid $48 a game for working behind the plate and $44 for working in the field.

"If I lose a game, that's money down the drain," said Rudy Ramirez, a veteran umpire.

Add to all these problems--the skipped practices and sloppy fields, the cluttered schedules and missed paychecks--a daily dilemma that confronts Tony Cuppari.

Cuppari has the Herculean task of assigning officials to work every City Section baseball and softball game in the San Fernando Valley. That includes junior varsity and freshmen games. He must supply crews to approximately 2,000 games this season.

"It's a job that no one wants to do, even in dry weather," he said. "The rain just makes it tougher."

As soon as the first drops fall, telephone calls come flooding into his office. One hundred umpires want to know if their games will be played. Schools call to reschedule.

"They say, 'We got rained out today so we want to reschedule for tomorrow,' " Cuppari said. "I ask them, 'Don't you guys ever look out the window or watch a weather report? It's supposed to rain all week.' "

That's bad news for Cassel, a hard-throwing young man who hopes to be drafted early in June. What will he tell scouts who want to see statistics for his senior season?

"Unavailable due to El Nino," he said.

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