Tending To Turf

Long before the first kids take the field, long before the first parent shows up with a folding chair, and certainly long before the umpire yells “Play ball!,” baseball and softball facility managers should be several innings into their own game plan–getting the fields ready for a new season of batters, pitchers, catchers, fielders, shortstops and more.

Keep ball fields in tip-top condition.

Depending on the location, fields may see heavy use year-round, or they may host daily play for several months, then in winter have no use at all.

But whenever the weather is good and the game is on, the fields are expected to be ready. Whether they can be depends on how much time is put into them.

“Ball-field playability is directly related to the level of personal care and commitment of the infield area,” says Mark Wrona of URS Corporation in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Keeping a safe, firm, playable surface through heavy use and varying weather conditions is the fundamental ball-field maintenance challenge.”

Another challenge, says Dan Wright of Sports Turf Company in Whitesburg, Ga., is trying to balance the needs of a field against a budget.

“Maintenance is always an issue for rec and parks departments,” Wright notes. “Typically, there’s not enough money in the budget to adequately maintain the fields as required. Over time, the fields deteriorate to the point of needing a renovation, especially the infields.”

Both Wrona and Wright note that infield material can migrate throughout the season, and is particularly prone to build up in various places on the playing surface, such as the grass edge between the infield and outfield.

Periodic infield dragging–an important factor in restoring the surface after hard play–can cause excess material to become packed where the grass ends, and can impact play by causing improper ball bounce. It also can create a “lip” or dam that keeps water from draining properly, and can mean the infield stays wet longer than it should.

“To help prevent this infield/outfield mound, keep back from the grass edge when dragging the infield,” Wrona notes. “Never drag in the direction of the outfield, and after dragging, hand-rake this particular edge in a direction away from the fields. Also, rake base paths perpendicular to the direction of the base runner.”

Unfortunately, says Wright, one problem tends to perpetuate itself–purchasing cheap material. “If the baseball skinned area was installed using an infield material that is too sandy or has a large silt and clay content, the infield will never be right. If the buyer keeps getting the infield material from the same source, that problem will never be fixed.”

Well-maintained ball fields are a community asset.

Give It A Rest

Natural turf fields–used by a majority of municipal facilities–have always required care in order to preserve the best possible playing conditions. After heavy rains, fields should be closed to all traffic (players and maintenance equipment, like mowers). It keeps players safe, and limits the possibility of compaction, depressions and damage that can be caused by equipment tires.

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