February is usually a tough month for Ball State's spring sports.
The baseball and softball teams each spend the first month of their seasons on the road because it's normally too cold to use their fields — but this week, temperatures were in the 60s so both teams were able to practice outdoors.
"Any time that you can play and make everything more realistic to actually what happens in a game, then it’s better for you," head baseball coach Rich Maloney said. "When we’re inside there’s certain things we do prepare and I think we do a really good job at that, but this is primo."
While both teams are used to practicing indoors this early in the season, head softball coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett said it can create spacing issues.
"It’s just kind of crazy to think that, when we train indoors, we don’t even have proper field dimensions," Ciolli Bartlett said.
On Wednesday, the baseball team ran a simulated game on Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Instead of wearing tennis shoes and shorts and hitting in the batting cage, the players put on their pants and spikes and dug into the batters box. A few players even hit home runs in batting practice.
"You can run relays where you can’t run them inside, you can get fly balls where you can’t get them inside," Maloney said. "You can see an open space when you’re hitting, see where the ball goes. Those are all big factors. The speed of the ball when you can play — I can hit a ground ball on the inside, but it doesn’t play the same as when it comes off the bat.”
Even with the warm temperatures, Maloney said the baseball team wouldn't be able to practice outdoors without recent renovations to Ball Diamond, especially the artificial turf.
“If we didn’t have the [artificial] turf, we wouldn’t have the chance to be on the field still," Maloney said.
The Varsity Softball Complex also features a turf outfield, though the infield is entirely dirt.
“Being able to defend on dirt while we’re home is such a luxury,” Ciolli Bartlett said. “We’ve gotten a lot of quality defensive reps in today and I know it seems a little bit silly, but just to be able to have baserunners going, the pitch going up and the outfielders having even a wall to train against right now is a great thing for us."
Junior right-handed pitcher Colin Brockhouse, the Mid-American Conference West Division Pitcher of the Week, said practicing outdoors helps the baseball team.
“One of the things is long toss," Brockhouse said. "We don’t have much room inside, so we come outside and just loosen up the arm.”
Temperatures are expected to drop into the 30s this weekend, but the baseball team will be in South Carolina playing against the defending national champion Coastal Carolina and the softball team playing in Orlando, Florida.
But it would be nice, Ciolli Bartlett said, if it warms up again next week.
"It’s amazing," Ciolli Bartlett said. "If we could keep this weather year-round, that would be wonderful.”