Seeping With Success

Good drainage starts with limiting the amount of water that goes onto a field. Ideally, the only water that lands on a sports field should come from either rain or irrigation. In other words, water should not enter a field in another way, such as running down bleachers, dripping off dugout roofs, running down nearby hillsides, etc.

Often, the field manager’s job is maintenance—either daily, on a game-by-game basis, or according to some other schedule. A few tasks commonly undertaken in maintenance can affect drainage.

For example, those charged with maintaining baseball and softball fields often find that dragging the skinned areas results in a buildup of material where the grass ends and the infield dirt starts. This buildup creates a ”dam” that traps water and doesn’t allow it to drain.

Similarly, if a sports field is surrounded by fencing, make sure grass under the bottom of the fence is kept trimmed. Because a mower may not be able to reach this area, the use of a string trimmer is required. Also check for any buildup of leaves or other debris along the fenceline.

Does The Field Get To “Rest” Between Uses?

And so we come to the great problem facing almost every field. Unless a facility is part of a multi-field complex, which allows for regular rotation, it’s a sure bet the municipality can’t afford to give a field much time off.

Unfortunately, that leads to use of fields when they’re wet and muddy—which in turn leaves them bare and damaged—leading to complaints from athletes.

It’s a difficult situation, and, unfortunately, the field manager is often caught in the middle. In a perfect world, fields would be rested and allowed to dry, and any damage to the grass would be mended naturally.

In reality, that’s not the case, and is one of the reasons many municipalities consider installing at least one artificial-turf field to help lessen the burden on fields that need some time off. (Artificial fields have their advantages and disadvantages—but that’s an issue for another time.)

Proper maintenance can go a long way to improving sports field drainage. © Can Stock Photo Inc./Alens

Good drainage for a field is the result of a confluence of factors. Some—the type of soil and the amount of precipitation, for instance—are out of the control of the facility manager, but others, including maintenance techniques, can be used effectively.

Drainage isn’t what is known in the trade as a ”sexy” issue. It doesn’t have the wow factor of a new scoreboard or a nice dugout, and players rarely remark, “Hey, great drains,” upon entering the facility. For that reason, it’s often overlooked or underfunded when facilities are built.

But, unfortunately, the success or failure of the facility will rest on the way it can drain water and be ready for players. And make no mistake—it needs to be ready when they are.

Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports-facility design, construction, and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, and health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.


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