By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
MANKATO — Spring may have officially arrived three weeks ago, but apparently Mother Nature wasn’t copied in on the memo.
The late stages of winter have been lingering for awhile, and that has been challenging for the Mankato Parks Department, which is trying to get a number of ball fields into shape for the baseball and softball seasons.
Parks and Forestry Superintendent Mark McQuillan says the winter weather is hanging around a little longer than usual, but not as much as some people may think.
“A lot of people are comparing it to last year, but last year was an aberration,” McQuillan said. “It was an early spring, and everybody was out on the ball fields earlier than usual.
“This year it hasn’t unfolded that way. It’s still pretty wet and cold out there.”
Rick Litchfield of the parks department was out at Franklin Rogers Park on Monday trying to whip the field into playable condition. He was working on the infield and putting out bases just in case the weather turns better and games can be played.
Mankato West athletic director Ken Essay said he’s already had to deal with a number of reschedulings and expects to have to do a few more, as the baseball and softball seasons are scheduled to kick into high gear this week.
“What makes this spring so rare is the snow,” Essay said. “I just drove back from Winnipeg, and there’s no snow until you get to Northern Minnesota. From there on down there are still pockets of snow around.”
The first scheduled game for Franklin Rogers is Thursday when the Mankato West baseball team is slated to host Austin in a 5 p.m. Big Nine Conference matchup. Based on the weather forecast (cool, possible snow and rain) McQuillan says that game is up in the air.
“One of the big things is that frost is still in the ground,” McQuillan said. “It was a deeper frost this year, and that holds up maintenance on the dirt areas like the infield. Until that dries out there’s not a lot we can do.
“And the grass hasn’t started growing yet, either. You need temperatures in the 55- to 65-degree range for that to happen, and then we can thatch and aerate and do other things to get that going.”
Essay says the weather is causing a lot of frustration.
“It’s been a long winter, and you can see people have cabin fever,” he said. “They want to get outside and start playing. We’re going to do the best we can to make it happen but the weather has to start cooperating.”