Tending To Turf

Note: If a field is irrigated, make sure to adjust periodically to allow for weather conditions in order to keep the grass from becoming too wet or too dry.

To safeguard fields even further, limit mowing when temperatures soar, since grass can scorch. Frequent mowing, adds Wrona, keeps the grass about 2 inches high, and is far better for the field than “scalping” the turf when more than one-third of the height of the grass blade is cut off all at once.

Those who work with fields agree that above all, proper field drainage is essential.

“If the fields were not graded with laser-technology equipment and not graded properly, there will always be a problem with standing water on the field,” notes Wright.

“The fields should be graded so that water drains away from the field the shortest distance. For example, the infield pitcher’s mound area should be the highest point in the infield and graded so water drains to the sidelines and to the outfield. The infield should have radial grading to ensure uniform grades for proper surface drainage of water.”

Preserving Some Traditions

Some cities have switched to synthetic-turf sports fields. Many chose this option to save money on mowing, fertilizing, etc., and to shorten the downtime caused by fields that are muddy or too wet to play on without damaging the surface.

If you’re considering such a facility, you’ll want to preserve some aspects of a traditional ball field.

“Even on synthetic-turf fields, the pitcher’s mound and batters’ boxes can (and in some cases should) remain infield material,” says Tony Wood of Beals Alliance Inc. in Sacramento, Calif.

“While the maintenance required to deal with the migration of infield material into the synthetic-turf infill may be cumbersome, it is minimal when compared to the maintenance needs of a natural-turf field.”

However, he notes, make sure to carefully check the manufacturer’s recommendations before installation.

“Ensure that you are not doing anything that could place your warranty in danger. In most instances, the high-use areas of an all-synthetic ball field (the batter’s box and pitching landing area) are susceptible to excessive wear long before the rest of the field is in need of repair or replacement. Often, these areas are called out specifically as ‘non-warrantee’ items, but are easily replaced by a qualified synthetic-turf contractor.”

A synthetic-turf field is more expensive than traditional grass, adds Wood, but the cost can be offset by its value to the municipality.

“In stadiums specifically, coaches ferociously protect their natural-turf fields in hopes of it surviving for the ‘big game.’ The life-cycle cost analysis on any synthetic-turf installation only shows an advantage to the client when they use it. The protection of a good warranty and regular maintenance suggests that the more you actually use your field, the better the value to the client. So rather than chasing the youth programs and marching band off of the field, put up lights and use it as much as possible, knowing that every time it is used, the ‘better deal’ you are getting.”

Besides, Woods points out the extra use can help keep vandals away from the facility. If there’s one thing potential troublemakers hate, it’s an audience.

And never underestimate the value of an involved and invested community member. It can make the biggest difference of all to any field, public or private, natural or man-made.

“Schreiber Field in LaPorte, Indiana, was voted Field of the Year by STMA (Sports Turf Manager Association) a few years ago,” Woods adds.

“The most important piece of maintenance equipment was the coach that lived directly across the street that walked the field with his dog every day. Any puddle, weed or piece of trash that existed on the field had less than a 24-hour lifespan.”

Note: The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a non-profit organization helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports- facility construction. For more information, call (866) 501-ASBA (2722), or visit www.sportsbuilders.org.

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, 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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