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No winter wonderland for athletes

By the time the seventh inning of Hernando's season opener against River Ridge rolled around Monday night, frost was beginning to form on the infield and Leopards closer Brandon Vanderford was huddled beneath a puffy winter coat on the home team's bench.

A few minutes after the senior pitcher finished off a 4-2 win over the Royal Knights, he pointed to his coat and uttered two words that did not need to be spoken.

"It's cold," Vanderford said as a white plume of vapor streamed from his mouth.

Tropical plants and house pets aren't the only victims of the recent cold front that moved into the bay area early this week. Spring sports, most in their first week of competition, also are feeling the effects of the temperatures, which Monday reached a low of 25 degrees, according to the Weather Channel.

Consider Hernando catcher Adam Watson, who spent the first five-and-a-half innings of the game on the bench before hitting a pinch-hit, winning single in the bottom of the sixth.

"I was a little tight," he said later.

The conditions were even worse in Citrus County, where a low of 21 degrees was recorded in Inverness. "It's horrible," said Lecanto baseball coach Jim Manos, who considered canceling Tuesday's opener against Belleview before changing his mind. "It's not conducive to baseball. It's brutal."

Crystal River principal Patrick Simon was so concerned about the weather, he approached baseball coach Rob Cummins and asked him to be careful. Cummins ended practice early Monday. So did Manos.

It didn't matter that teams from the North would salivate over playing outdoors in mid February. This is Florida, and things are different. When a new resident to the state pulled Hernando athletic director Brent Gaustad aside and told him he didn't think the temperature got this cold in Florida, Gaustad responded, "It's not supposed to."

"I don't like playing in cold weather," said Crystal River senior Kyle Daquanna, who has never lived outside the state. "You get jammed and it stings the fingers. Baseball in Florida is supposed to be hot and sweating."

Of course, it won't be long before the complaints turn to the insufferable heat. And with temperatures expected to climb toward 80 degrees later this week, the cold weather is certainly an anomaly. But as the bundled-up players on area athletic fields attest, it's an anomaly that won't be missed.

Staff writer Brian Sumers contributed to this report.