On a mild Tuesday night in Summit County, with the sun beginning to set behind the Tenmile Range, the Summit High School boys baseball team pulled into the high school parking lot for practice.
With bat bags on their backs and a glove in each of their hands, players flowed into the high school gym in order to host another indoor practice ahead of the team’s first 4A state baseball tournament appearance in the history of the program.
Unlike most baseball teams in the 4A state baseball tournament — or across the nation — practicing indoors has become the norm for the program.
Those familiar with the school and county know that the only baseball diamond that is on high school property has long been taken over by weeds and natural grass. The only remaining remnants of the former diamond are two old backstop fences at the edge of the Summit County Recreational Pathway System.
Due to the lack of a baseball field and the harsh climate in Summit County, the team instead hosts practice indoors for the majority of the season. In fact, the team has only practiced outside on the Tiger Field turf or on one of the grass practice fields less than a half-dozen times throughout the course of spring.
Members of the team say the indoor practices definitely pose a challenge to the team’s preparation for games, especially at the beginning of the season when it has been close to a year since the team has been in an in-game scenario.
“It is definitely difficult, especially at the start of the season,” senior Cory Cooper said. “We don’t have a field. In the winter, it is completely covered — snow everywhere.”
Cooper estimates that the team has had 100 practices inside since the team started practicing together during the winter with only four practices taking place outside on the turf or grass. The heavy load of indoor practices has ultimately shaped how the team prepares for a competitive 4A Western Slope league and schedule.
“We are in the gym everyday,” Cooper said. “Making sure we are taking care of our bodies, eating right, making sure our school work is on time. Making sure our lives are all taken care of outside of baseball even so that we are ready and more prepared for the games.”
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Ultimately, the team has found a way to adapt to all the conditions thrown its way. Whether rarely practicing outside, hosting only five home games at town-owned fields or playing in several snow games, the Tigers have found a way to not only win, but succeed at the Class 4A level.
“We have been able to adapt in a lot of different situations,” senior Jack Schierholz said. “We have had a lot of bad weather this spring between rain and snow. You can see it in how we play throughout the season. Our time on the baseball field only really comes in games, so it has been a crazy scenario. I doubt very many teams deal with it.”
Schierholz thinks the prevalence of indoor practices is one reason why the Summit baseball program tends to heat up at the tail end of the regular season. For the last two seasons in a row, Summit has closed the regular season with impressive runs.
Last season, the team closed out the season 12-0. This season, the team went 10-1 before winning Region 5 of the Colorado state baseball regional tournament in Palisade and advancing to the eight-team Colorado state baseball tournament this weekend.
“There is nothing that can imitate baseball dirt like baseball dirt,” Schierholz said of the team steadily improving throughout the season. “There is nothing like a baseball field that you can make out of a gym. If you can play outside, you are going to get better at baseball. That has been true this season, and it was true last season.”
The only time that the Summit boys baseball team’s cleats have touched the dirt of a true baseball diamond is when the team has played on the road or when the local fields defrost and dry out enough for the team to host a home game.
This season, the team hosted five home games at the conclusion of the regular season with the other 16 games played on the road with few Summit fans in attendance.
Despite only having a few opportunities to have home field advantage, Summit rolled to a record of 15-6 over the course of the regular season and was ultimately able to secure the 12 seed in the Class 4A regional baseball tournament.
The members believe that the lack of a field, indoor practices and a schedule with mostly away games have all created a resilient baseball team that has a little bit of a chip on its shoulder as it prepares to exit the doors of the bus this Friday.
“Our team is viewed as an underdog,” Cooper said. “A lot of teams take us for nobodies. It feels really good to show that we are not. We have made a name for ourselves this year. Hopefully we can keep going and show that Summit baseball is a top-eight team.”
“We have accepted that there is no other option,” freshman Sam Eldredge said. “This is what we got in terms of facilities. It has been cool to be around the atmosphere we have built this year.”
With rows of white chairs set up for Summit High School’s graduation, the Summit baseball team once again prepared inside the school on Tuesday night.
Players take turns in a drop-down batting cage. Others hit balls off tees into a net, and the remaining players throw balls to one another from across the gym. Even though Summit baseball practices have looked untraditional to most programs across the state, the Tigers are heading into its first 4A state baseball tournament prepared to make a run.
“It is really exciting to be in this situation,” Schierholz said. “This is the farthest Summit baseball has ever been, and so we are just grateful for the opportunity to compete and play. We all want to be there, we are all excited to be there. Our seniors are missing graduation on Saturday in order to take care of business on the diamond.”
“I am excited,” senior Will Koll said. “The teams we are playing have been in the tournament multiple times. This is our first appearance, so we have some big shoes to fill. I am excited. I don’t think there is anyone we can’t beat if we play our game.”
No. 12 Summit will begin the 4A state baseball tournament on Friday, May 26, when it takes on No. 4 Golden High School at noon at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs. If the team wins, it will then face the winner of No. 1 Holy Family and No. 9 Lutheran High School at 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
Bearing a loss, the team will drop to the loser’s side of the double-elimination-style bracket, which will begin play on Saturday.
The Summit Daily News will provide coverage of the 4A state baseball tournament on Friday. For up to date coverage, visit SummitDaily.com or the Summit Daily Facebook page.