While many students are sleeping at 3 a.m., often the St. Thomas baseball team is returning from practice.
Field reservations are expensive and hard to come by, leaving the baseball players with particularly late field times at the Metrodome, some not ending until 3 a.m. or later.
“It’s tough, especially for those of us that have morning class,” catcher J.D. Dorgan said. “You just have to find different times to sleep.”
Because outdoor play typically isn’t an option for spring sports until mid-March, the baseball team is forced to compete for practice times in the Anderson Athletic Recreation Complex’s Field House with the softball, tennis and track and field teams. The result is a few early morning and late night practices for each team throughout the week.
Second baseman Sam Miller said he does not enjoy the late-night practice hours, but he does value the time his team spends in the field house.
“The AARC is easily the best and most accessible facility in the area,” Miller said.
In addition to indoor practices at the AARC, the Tommies will also have four practices and five doubleheaders in the Metrodome this season. Coach Chris Olean said the Metrodome is a huge asset to his team and helps it compete on a national level.
“It’s really the only place in the upper-Midwest where you don’t simulate baseball,” Olean said. “From now until the end of March, there’s baseball going on in the Metrodome 24-hours a day.”
Dorgan said the extra practice in the Metrodome provides his team with a leg-up on the competition.
“The Metrodome is really convenient, even though the times aren’t,” Dorgan said. “We get kind of an upper-edge because we’re so close, especially in comparison to some of the other teams in our region.”
Next year, the team will have to create an alternate plan for its February and March practices. The Metrodome, which is the only facility to host a Major League Baseball All-Star game, NCAA Final Four, Super Bowl and World Series, will be torn down next year for the new stadium to be built in its place, leaving the Tommies with one less practice facility.
St. Thomas faced the same issue during the 2011 season when the Metrodome was unusable after its roof collapsed the previous December. The team visited Missouri in 2011, in addition to its yearly Florida tournament over spring break, to play a few extra games before conference play began. Because of this, Olean said the Tommies will schedule another warm weather trip, possibly to Oklahoma.
Though it’s an advantage, time spent in the Metrodome often negatively affects coaches, players and trainers’ sleep schedules.
“We always try to be really cognizant of sleep issues and make sure that we give our players a day or two off to recover after a late practice,” Olean said.
Dorgan said he tries to squeeze in naps wherever possible, a habit that Miller has also adopted.
“I sleep after late practices, even if it’s only for three or four hours, because some sleep is better than nothing,” Miller said.
In addition to physical well-being, academics are another priority among the coaching staff.
“We all know why our players are here. They’re here to go to school and attend class,” Olean said. “If there’s any conflict between baseball and academics, all they need to do is communicate that with us and we certainly understand.”
The unconventional practice times are only temporary. The Tommies are forced to deal with early and late practices through February and mid-March, but after spring break, it should be warm enough for them to take the practices outdoors.
“It’s only six weeks of difficult scheduling that none of us really like. Outside’s not an option,” Olean said. “This is the best we can do.”
Maggie Whitacre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.