With snow on the ground and single-digit temperatures outside, the sweltering heat of summer seems years, not months, away. For one team, however, the winter months have passed quickly as they prepare - inside - for the upcoming softball season.
The Phenix T's, a 10-and-under softball team in Lawrence, practices once a week in preparation for its season, which starts in April. "We're just learning fundamentals," coach Gary Tanner, who also coaches the softball team at Haskell, said.
"Some of the girls are growing a little faster than others, but that's just that age group and how some develop. All of them seem to be having fun right now."
The members of the Phenix T's get to use the facilities at Haskell for their weekly winter practices, during which Tanner made sure his players worked on a little bit of everything.
"When we practice we work on pitching and catching fundamentals," Tanner said. "We work on batting in the batting cage; we just do whatever we can inside."
At open tryouts last August the Phenix T's got a good turnout, and the team is now comprised of players from Baldwin, Ottawa, Tonganoxie, Lecompton, De Soto and Lawrence.
As it stands, the team has 11 players on its roster, but Tanner was not too concerned about adding any more. "We may let one more on our team," Tanner said. "But right now we're happy with who we've got. We want them all to play. The more we get on, the more somebody's got to sit on the bench during the game, and that's not what we want."
Players will get on-field experience not only in league play, but also in a number of area tournaments. "We'll play in five to seven tournaments this summer," Tanner said.
The T's will play in Kansas City, Olathe and Topeka, while Lawrence will play host to the first and last tournaments of the year in April and July, respectively.
Tanner, the former longtime football coach at Haskell, got into coaching softball because of the interest his two daughters showed in the sport. He started helping one of his daughter's youth teams and it snowballed from that point. He has been the softball coach at Haskell since the program's inception in 1998.
This is Tanner's team. In fact the name Phenix T's is short for Phenix Tanner's team.
"It sounded easier just to say Phenix T's," Tanner explained. "When the girls get up and holler, it's easier to say 'Phenix T's' loud than it is to say 'Phenix Tanner's Team.'"
The team has worked diligently in the winter months this year and its coach said the T's might expand their offseason routine to include "fall ball" at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
"We'll probably do that next year," he suggested. "It depends on what activities the girls are in. At that age you want them to have a variety of activities. They're not specializing in any one thing yet. We want to make sure we don't dominate their time. We'll work around their other sports and interests and activities."
Tanner said a full-blown practice for this season would start as soon as the weather permits.