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Spring sports buried

A tractor plows snow at the Esko ballfields recently. The school's baseball and softball teams have yet to host a home game due to facility conditions. Photo courtesy Jeff Emanuel1 / 4
The Moose Lake-Willow River baseball field is unplayable. “We shoveled off the home plate area and one of the base lines, but there is still a foot and a half of snow over the rest of the field,” coach Matt Niedzielski said. Photo courtesy Matt Niedzielski2 / 4
A path dug in a Barnum ballfield shows how unlikely home games are anytime soon. Photo courtesy Dustin Collelo3 / 4
The majority of the Cloquet track remains hidden under snow. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal4 / 4

Coaches of spring sports in Minnesota have the unenviable task of dealing with the elements. Every year brings something a bit different, but this season is rivaling 2013 for a late start to getting on the fields and courts to play games.

For the most part, every local baseball and softball team is facing at least a one- to two-week season delay.

"Our field in Willow River is still under at least a foot of snow," said Kelly Goeb, head coach of the Moose Lake-Willow River softball team. "I'm sure it will be at least a couple of weeks, maybe more, before we can play on our field. Do you know of anyone that wants to look into building a dome for our area?"

That same question was asked by numerous baseball and softball coaches as a recent spate of snow and extremely cold conditions have kept the ground from thawing, leaving fields unplayable.

Snow, frost continues to pose issues

"We still have 6-12 inches on our field and ours also takes a long time for the frost to pop even after the snow has melted," Esko baseball coach Ben Haugen said. "I am hoping our Monday, April 30, home game against Eveleth-Gilbert we'll be ready. That would mean we only postpone three home games."

Unfortunately, the forecast for this week has temperatures in the mid-30s for most days, with evening temperatures down in the teens. Overnight temperatures need to stay above freezing for the frost to seep out of the ground and eventually make the fields playable.

"Right now, our field is completely covered by snow," Barnum softball coach Dustin Collelo said. "I am hoping to get on the field and play games by May at this point, and our extended forecast doesn't look good at this point, either."

Collelo's reference to to the extended forecast is something all local coaches have been watching. With the chance of another significant snow event possibly hitting the area Friday, April 13, things could get worse before they get better.

The baseball field in Barnum is also a mess as of earlier this week.

"We thought about purchasing snowshoes for spring ball," joked Barnum baseball coach Tony Bender. "Our field will be about two to three weeks from being used right now unless the weather drastically changes. It's unfortunate that we get winter weather in April. It may end up being a short, condensed and busy end of April and May for baseball this year."

Much like the Moose Lake-Willow River softball team, the school's boys baseball team is finding the going tough as well.

"We shoveled off the home plate area and one of the base lines, but there is still a foot and a half of snow over the rest of the field," Rebel baseball coach Matt Niedzielski said. "With the extended forecast looking the way it does, we are holding out hope that we may get some home games in during the last week of the month."

The Carlton softball and baseball fields are in the same boat.. Both teams play at the Chub Lake Park complex. At least one coach is not optimistic about when they will get to play a home game.

"Our field is not in good shape," Bulldog softball coach Melissa Clark said. "I went out yesterday to check conditions and shovel, the deeper areas were about 18 inches deep, and I would say the areas with less snow still had 10 inches to a foot. I feel if we have good weather it could be close to two weeks for the field to be game ready. If we get more snow this coming weekend, that would put even more of a delay on things.

"Unfortunately, this is spring in Minnesota, so there is really no telling what will happen," she said.

In Cloquet, the baseball team is faced with snow on Ed Mettner Field.

"We have 6 to 8 inches of snow on the field right now," Cloquet baseball coach Rick Norrgard siad. "I think we could be playable by the 23rd if we don't get the snow this weekend. If we do get the snow? I am afraid to think about that, but it will probably be sometime in May."

Perhaps the field closest to being playable is the Esko softball field, which is snow-free after the coaches and team removed the snow a couple of weeks ago. The field is still soupy as the frost comes out during the day, but refreezes at night when the temperatures dip below freezing again.

CEC tennis courts among few playable venues

Baseball and softball are not the only spring sports bothered by the harsh conditions. The Cloquet track team is facing similar problems.

"Our track is very buried," Cloquet track coach Tim Prosen said. "We are supposed to have an outdoor meet here next Tuesday, but I don't see it happening. We have had one indoor meet on March 24. We have another on April 14 in Ashland. We are used to bad weather, sometimes snow and cold, sometimes a week of rain even during a nice season.

"Our coaches are creative and we hope to hit the ground running healthy and in shape when we can," he said. "It really hurts our field events like pole vaulting, jumps, throws and also hurdles, but our coaches do the best they can to have fun and learn along the way."

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team is in a bit better shape than other programs because three of their courts at Cloquet High School appear playable; however, they are also a week or two away from playing their first home game.

"We have three courts cleared and playable at this moment," CEC boys tennis coach Derek Johnson said. "It's been tough, not having the sun beaming down heating up the courts and melting the snow. Any sun and warm weather we do get helps a lot, but then with the cold temps at night, the courts ice up and the snow gets hard."

Another issue for the tennis program is where to put the snow so that when it melts, it doesn't drain right back on to the courts again, causing more icing.

"We can't have wet courts and we've been taking care of that by using rollers and shoveling on the outside of the fence as well," Johnson said. "All in all, three courts can be played on, but we will see what this weekend's weather brings."

The largest sports complex in Carlton County is Braun Park in Cloquet, which features six main fields as well as a couple of smaller youth fields. That complex is also not even close to playable.

"I don't mind being indoors, but this is getting tough," Cloquet softball coach Ron Tondryk said. "We are at least a couple of weeks out, and that is if the weather would cooperate. However, the weather has been so cold that the snow melt has been slowed. I don't seeing us getting on the field until, at the earliest, the last week of April."