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Not exactly a winter wonderland for athletes

With his black batting gloves pressed against his hands like mittens, Pirates baseball coach Rob Cummins dreaded taking them off.

But to pitch batting practice, the 31-year Citrus County resident would need to expose his bare right hand to the elements. So he tossed pitch after pitch to his players, some of whom grimaced as the ball and bat contact brought a tingling sensation to their hands.

One player likened the feeling to sticking warm hands into a freezing cold swimming pool. Their coach, meanwhile, cracked jokes.

"This," he said, "is Winter Olympics weather."

Tropical plants and house pets aren't the only victims of the recent cold front that moved into the North Suncoast early this week. Spring sports, most of which are in their first week of competition, also are feeling the effects of the temperatures.

"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."

Both Manos and Cummins ended practice early Monday, avoiding the bitter cold that set in as the sun went down. Crystal River principal Patrick Simon was so concerned about the weather he approached Cummins and asked him to be careful.

Softball players, too, braved the chill.

"Your hands are cold, and you can't hold on to the bat real well," Crystal River's Ashley Carter said. "It hurts."

It didn't matter that teams from the North would salivate over playing outdoors in mid February. This is Florida, and things are different.

"I don't like playing in cold weather," said the Pirates' 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."

Manos laughed when he remembered his college days at Long Island University in New York, when he and his teammates embraced Florida's winter weather on road trips.

"We were stupid," said Manos, who has lived in Citrus since 1975. "We would come down here in this weather and we'd take off our shirts and sun bake."

It's safe to say no county baseball players were trying the shirtless look Monday or Tuesday, though some did come to practice in shorts to show their toughness.

It was to be worse Tuesday night, a fact the players weren't embracing. With both Lecanto and Crystal River scheduled for their season openers at night (Citrus is off until Friday), the game-time temperature was expected to hover in the mid 40s.

The scenes were similar Monday night at Hernando when frost began forming on the infield as Leopards closer Brandon Vanderford huddled beneath a puffy winter coat on the bench.

Then, a few minutes after the senior pitcher finished off a 4-2 win over River Ridge, he pointed to his coat and uttered two words that anyone in attendance already knew.

"It's cold."

As he said it, his breath was visible in the cold night air.

Staff writer David Murphy contributed to this story.