Andre Mercurio was gasping for air Thursday afternoon after a 3-on-3 game of “Capture the Ball,” a summer camp-style game in which the object is to pull a ball out of a small triangle in the middle of the gym without getting tagged by the other team.
“It gets pretty intense,” Mercurio acknowledged.
Mercurio is no summer camper though. He is a San Jose State-bound outfielder who is probably one of the toughest outs in Northern California.
But on a day when the Bay Area was hit by yet another late winter storm that left fields all across the Peninsula – and most of coastal California, for that matter – unplayable, “Capture the Ball” was one of the indoor activities his Serra High baseball team could do.
And lately, there have been a lot of days like this.
In a month that’s on pace to set rainfall records, baseball and softball teams across the Peninsula have been scrambling to get some kind of work in.
“One of the worst” weather years so far, said El Camino High baseball coach Carlos Roman, who’s in his 28th year as the Colts’ coach.
El Camino’s scheduled Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division game against Hillsdale today was canceled on Thursday, bringing the Colts’ rainout total to five games -- including three league contests and one scrimmage.
“The field is so saturated, it doesn’t give us a break,” Roman said. “It seems like there’s no end in sight.”
And if necessity is the mother of innovation, then so is an unusually wet March.
Most Peninsula baseball and softball programs have limited gym access because of volleyball and badminton. Some are allowed to hit squishy balls or wiffle balls in the gyms in foul weather. Others are restricted to conditioning.
They’ve all had to improvise to some degree.
Capuchino doesn’t even have a gym this year while its campus is being renovated, but the Mustangs have managed to get some work in even amid some of the worst weather.
On days when he can’t take his team outdoors, Mustangs baseball coach Matt Wilson has his players practicing base running drills and hitting squishy balls in the Capuchino hallways.
“You’ve got to be on your toes and be creative,” Wilson said. “Nobody wants to be bored. We play the game of baseball because it’s a game. It’s a fun game, so we try to do what we can to make it fun.”
Terra Nova softball coach Donna Tolero said she tries to get her team hitting squishy balls indoors when she can. But when there’s no gym space available, she just calls it a “Cake Day” and lets her players enjoy empty calories and a movie.
“We just saw ‘The Miracle’ last week,” Tolero said. “That was a great team-bonding movie.”
Sometimes when the really big storms hit, Tolero said she just lets her players dive onto the school’s soft-turf field, “Bull Durham” style.
“A lot of the girls never get a chance to slide and dive on the field in softball,” Tolero said. “They’re soaked from head-to-toe and they have (soft-turf) pellets all over their faces.
“They have a blast!”
Bad weather practices aren’t all fun and games though.
Wilson said he brings his players into the classroom to go over fundamentals such as bunt and outfield coverage, and most programs try to hit in outdoor cages when they can.
Serra is one of the fortunate few programs to have an indoor hitting cage, which enabled the Padres to hit for an hour and half on Thursday.
But hitting in a cage doesn’t quite get the adrenaline flowing like a game of “Capture the Ball.”
“(Serra coach Craig Gianinno) wants us to compete,” Mercurio said. “That’s why we do drills that don’t pertain to baseball.”
The Padres do other non-baseball activities indoors, including a basketball-style five-man weave, with teammates calling out each others' names as they flip a ball to each other with their off-hands while running up and down the basketball court.
Mercurio said the drills develop stamina, promote team-building and encourage strategizing.
“It definitely brings us closer as a team, especially with some of the juniors we don’t really know that well,” Mercurio said. “We get to see what kind of intensity they have.
“And it’s also a lot of fun. You get really sweaty.”