I’m not very good at playing hand-slap.
That was one of my first takeaways from Saturday’s YAIAA spring sports media day, a revelation I learned when Susquehannock baseball’s Dustin Babaie beat me with ease.
I also learned that throwing a wiffle ball softball-style is challenging, lacrosse players are sharp dressers and Littlestown softball coach Henry Wardrop is the last person you want to have a staring contest with.
But I digress.
This was my first media day as a member of the GameTimePA.com team, and it was a great opportunity for me to get to know the athletes and coaches in the area. There were plenty of takeaways from the day, but here's a look at some that stood out the most.
Baseball players hitting the weight room
Weightlifting is an activity associated more with football and track-and-field than baseball, but numerous local baseball teams are trying to change that mindset.
Teams like Red Lion, Susquehannock and Dallastown have developed specific weight training programs for their players both before and during the season. The emphasis is both to build strength and prevent injury.
“That’s part of the mentality shift," Red Lion head coach Kevin Lawrence said. “Baseball players used to not lift. But anytime you’re engaged in an athletic endeavor, the bigger, faster, stronger you can be, you have a better chance of success."
One reason baseball players shied away from lifting in the past is the perception that it could hurt their arms and throwing ability. Susquehannock coach Tim Hare said that while this is a legitimate concern, it is easily avoidable if players train the correct way.
According to Hare, pitchers should avoid the bench press during the season and instead focus on other exercises.
"Some other sports look at us a little weird because we don’t bench press," Hare said. "We still work our chest quite a bit. We train the backside of the body, the hamstrings, the back, that kind of stuff."
Other teams like Littlestown and York Catholic don't have specific programs, but still encourage its players to get in the weight room on their own time.
With baseball workouts and school work already on their plates, students are sometimes required to lift before classes begin, even as early as 5:30 a.m.
“Some days you roll out of the bed and think why am I doing this?" Red Lion's Erik Paules said. "But then you think, this is what I’ve got to do to be better. If you want to succeed it’s what you’ve got to do.”
Littlestown softball flourishing under Wardrop
Kaitlin Yealy and McKenzie Somers both consider softball their passion.
Two of the top players in the YAIAA, the Littlestown seniors both play the sport year-round and will be continuing their careers at the college level. But just two years ago, neither was enjoying the game very much.
But things changed last year when Henry Wardrop took over as head coach and Littlestown went 18-5 and won Division III after finishing third the year before.
Both Yealy and Somers said the team's success last season can be partially attributed to the new attitude Wardrop has brought to the program.
"He listens," Somers said. "He cares about us. I think we're going into this season expecting the best."
While the Thunderbolts are expected to contend for a division title once again, Wardrop said the players are aware that what they did last season doesn't matter anymore. They also have aspirations to qualify for the state playoffs.
"Is the Pope Catholic?" Wardrop said when asked if Littlestown has a target on its back in Division III. "As coaches we've tried to share with them, nobody cares what you did last season. But we think we're going to do okay."
YAIAA baseball players, softball players and boys' lacrosse players took turns lighting up a radar gun at GameTimePA.com's spring media day. Jim Seip/GameTimePA.com
The 'club team vs. school team' debate
It's well known that many high school players in most sports play for club and travel teams in addition to their schools team. But which team do players care the most about?
The question got some interesting answers on Saturday. While nearly all agree that playing for your school team invokes a certain sense of pride, there were differing opinions on the competitive atmospheres generated by both club and school teams.
"I feel high school is more relaxed than travel," Gettysburg softball player Dalyce Kump said. "At high school, the girls don't have as much experience as travel. At high school, it's more fun. But if you lose in travel, nobody really knows about it, and when you lose in high school the whole school knows."
Spring Grove lacrosse player Matt Boteler, who also plays club soccer, said the opposite has been true for him during his career.
"Club is just more laid-back," Boteler said. "I feel like a lot of people agree with it. It's not that you don't have fun in high school, but with club you're here because you actually love the sport and you want to get better."