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Local players can benefit from summer baseball

Due to restrictions involving high school teams competing against one another baseball players have found other avenues of competition, including several local players taking part in summer leagues to stay sharp.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association has banned high school teams from playing one another, so to stay active during the summer months high school baseball players are participating in competitive summer leagues.

After losing out on a good portion of their seasons due to COVID-19, the baseball players are looking to get on the field and make up for lost time this summer.

“I think it’s important to play different places, play different kids. Sometimes the competition is a lot better, but just getting that experience is important and especially this year we had a lot of guys not get any reps. Any extra ball can be big for them going into future,” Picayune Baseball’s Head Coach Evan Nichelson said.

Neil Walther is the head coach of the Pearl River Central baseball team, and he said his players can use the summer games as an opportunity to learn after losing out on a large section of last season.

The athletes can compete with one another against new players each game, which can help build relationships among the new players, while also allowing them the opportunity to try out new positions.

“Even if we only lose two guys (after a season) that’s still a new team and new chemistry. A big (part of summer games) is just to see the kids develop a little bit and we’ll put them in different positions,” Walther said.

When players take part in the summer leagues they’re playing under coaches and with players they’ve likely never met before.

It’s something the players have to adapt to, but it also means there’s a possibility an athlete may pick up a bad habit over the summer while they’re not under the supervision of their high school coach.

However, Slade Jones, Head Coach of Poplarville’s baseball team, said that doesn’t happen very often because for the most part the players are out there to get reps, not instruction.

“We prepare our guys up front and say, ‘You’re going out there to play, not change anything. You might get something from somebody as far as instruction, but that’s an opinion that might not be for you,’” Jones said.

Walther said baseball is a sport of rhythm and timing, things that can be lost when players aren’t in competitive environments for long periods of time.

Not only do the games help players shake off some of the rust, they also allow players to grow as they’re exposed and have to adapt to different levels of talent each game.

This in turn could help in the fall when the athletes come back to school and the pressure is on to start preparing for the upcoming season. “Pretty much everybody can hit in the cage pretty well, but going against a live pitcher changing locations, changing speed and changing pitches timing comes into play more. You won’t get that without live reps,” Walther said.

“If you go a long period of time without live reps it’s hard to get the timing back,” Nichelson said.