COLUMBIA — For the Hickman baseball team to kick-start its season and build on the ample promise it showed last year, it first needs a place to play.
That's been harder to manage than you might think.
Harsh weather, both wet and cold, has stalled the Kewpies' preseason practice regimen. They have often been confined to the gymnasium and the artificial turf of the football field, unable to fully stretch out and play the game in its natural setting.
The team's season opener, which was to be played Thursday at Southern Boone, was canceled. They did get on the field Tuesday to hit, but had to stay on the grass for fear of tearing up the rest of the field.
"Oh, I'm so anxious," said junior catcher Colby Fitch, one of the team's top returning hitters. "Being inside, on the football field, you can't really get the bad hops on the infield, you can't see where the ball's traveling when you're hitting and you just can't get the whole feel for the game to get ready for the season. So hopefully it doesn't affect us too bad, but I'm just dying to get on the field and start playing."
"You can't make throws the way you want to, you can't run the bases the way you want to, there's just a lot of things you can't do," Hickman coach Dan Devine, Jr. said.
The team is eager to get going, and for good reason. Last year, Hickman finished 15-10, and though it made a quick exit from the postseason after losing 2-1 to Troy Buchanan in district play, senior pitcher Jonathan Jones thought that last year's team had ability to make a run.
Jones, who is set to play at Heartland Community College in Illinois, will likely fill the role of the team's pitching ace. He was second on the Kewpies in innings pitched last year, had a 1.12 ERA and led all the team's pitchers with 36 strikeouts.
Jones also gets back his battery mate in Fitch. The densely built, left handed-hitting catcher is more known for the danger he presents with the bat. Fitch, a junior, hit four home runs, with a .408 batting average, as a sophomore and had a strong summer season.
He committed to play at the University of Louisville this fall. College may be decided, but pro scouts will likely have their eyes on Fitch. One of the biggest concerns for him might end up being whether he sees enough good pitches to hit.
"And if they pitch to me, I mean, I'm going to be looking for the ball to hit," he said. "And if they don't, then it's a free base for me, so I'm not going to be complaining either way."
While the Kewpies graduated seven seniors last year, they also have a solid number of players returning to their positions. But there are still some spots that remain unresolved, and what Devine needs to help with that is an open field.
"You know, you can see things and you can tell who players are and you can see things about how hard guys are working, but until you see a guy make a play out in the field, you can't make that final judgment," he said.
Fitch and Jones mentioned winning a district championship among their goals. They talked about beating Rock Bridge, something Hickman sports as a whole have excelled at this year. But first, they've got to get out and play.
Hickman will take a second shot in gamesagainst Vianney and Waynesville set for Saturday in Columbia.