Who’s to blame for Vikings’ 0-11 start | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Who’s to blame for Vikings’ 0-11 start

Column by Steve Yingling, Tribune Sports Editor

What the South Tahoe High baseball program really needed this spring was a La Nina-induced drought.

Instead, it’s been wetter than an Oregonian without an umbrella. Consequently, the Vikings are confined to indoor baseball and a predictable miserable start. The typical excuses for losing are at their disposal: How can you simulate live baseball when you’re relegated to practicing in a gymnasium? STHS’s baseball and softball programs account for 90 percent of the city’s homeless population during March and April, so how can they be expected to win?

The winless Viking diamondmen, however, aren’t counting the days until the summer Babe Ruth season commences. They are looking for answers. They are giving up their spring vacation. They are confident that elusive first win is theirs the next time they take the field.

Besides, their rookie manager Doug Russell won’t let them quit.

“They’re down, but everybody is hanging in there. We have good days and bad days. What we want the most to the man is a victory,” Russell said.

When a collection of athletes who produced a 4-5 football season and exemplary varsity and JV basketball campaigns starts the season with 11 straight losses, the community usually becomes restless.

But in Tahoe, the expectations are tempered by how harsh the winter was and when and if spring arrives. So far, spring is taking its customary bypass of South Lake Tahoe.

Since the city and school district didn’t keep up with the snow load throughout the winter, the Vikings have only been able to practice on Todd Fields twice this spring. The rest of the time they have been taking fly balls in the school parking lot and vainly trying to simulate ground balls in the Blue Gym.

Until the school can either find a field to consistently use in the valley or a maintenance plan to remove snow from Todd Fields, the Vikings are going to continue to struggle.

“It was a little disheartening to go back in the gym last Thursday and Friday, but we’ve moved on,” Russell said. “It was helpful to work on some things that have been holding us back like live hitting, getting on the base paths that are a regulation 90 feet, giving our catchers a chance to throw out runners and allowing our outfielders to see the balls coming off the bat and making good reads.”

As more snow moved into the region on Monday, STHS’s chance of hosting its next scheduled home game against Wooster on April 12 is remote at best. With only seven home games remaining, the Vikings are being rooked by some of the wettest April storms Lake Tahoe has experienced during the 1990s.

“You want to play in front of a home crowd, but we have had a lot of support from parents driving down to our games,” said Viking junior Tim Sprinkles. “When you do play on your home field, you know all the bounces and you know the grass infield. Without playing there, it’s been tough.”

Of course, the Vikings could have been forgiven if they collectively used their spring break to take in the Dodgers opening series with the Diamondbacks in the warm and cozy confines of Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles.

But the Vikings are passionately pursing that first slash in the win column. They are spending part of their spring break in Pleasanton, Calif., playing some of the top competition from Northern California during a three-day tournament.

“It will always benefit us to get out on the field and play some. If the other teams are taking time off, this could be the time for us to close the gap. We kind of look at these games as practice time for our next league games. We also look at this time to get some wins under belt,” Sprinkles said.

“We have a short enough season as it is, so let’s get in as many games as we can,” explained Russell. “The kids are excited about going, and we get to test ourselves against some teams outside the area, which is nice.”

Baseball success can be achieved in South Lake Tahoe. After all, the Vikings have one postseason appearance under the belts during the 1990s – albeit during a drought year.

It can happen again, but let’s not wait for the whim of another drought to resurrect the program. Todd Fields needs to be covered during the winter and routinely cleared of snow, so the players can take the field when the the other Northern Nevada League teams do. After all, we don’t let the snow pile up on our driveways, do we?

Players and well-intentioned community members tried to make a difference last March when nearly 36 inches of snow covered the field. Shehadi Motors donated a truckload of new snowblowers to clear the field, but the snow was so packed down and deep, that only the infield could be cleared after a full day’s work.

Allowing some larger snow removal equipment on the field could keep up with these messy winters and do minimal damage to an already bumpy surface.

Give the players a fighting chance. The weather excuses are worn out and unfair to the players and coaches who have to regurgitate them.

If they don’t win a game this year, they aren’t to blame. Neither is the weather. It’s our fault.

“It would be nice to get that first win out of the way, but we’re not going to focus on it because we’ve been playing better baseball,” Russell said. “If it takes a little longer than we hoped for, we still have to play good ball and good defense and the winning will take care of itself.”

As long as the weather cooperates.

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