Give Your Infield a Passing Grade
by Jim Hermann, CSFM
If the first task of the morning is to pull the cover off your infield, don’t read this article. If your crew does a routine to the tune of YMCA as they drag the infield in the fifth inning, don’t read this article.
This article is directed to the maintenance of infields with limited budgets.
It is increasingly upsetting to hear people say, “If you want your infield playable after a rain, you have to buy this product. If you have standing water you need this product.” Buy this product! Buy that product! Buy another product!
The most economical step you can take toward maintaining your infield in a safe, playable condition is to prevent water from ponding. Probably the only rule in athletic field maintenance that has no exception is this: WATER RUNS DOWNHILL. If you maintain adequate slope to the perimeters of your infield skin, excess water will run off. In this way your infield will remain more playable more often.
When you resolve yourself to ridding your field of chronic water problems, you have to accept the fact that it won’t happen overnight. There is no quick fix. There is no magical product, because every field is different. Every field has its own, individual problems. It may take a number of attempts to finally get a passing grade.
In order to keep water from ponding on your infield skin, you should have a minimum of .75% slope to the turf perimeter of the infield skin area. A rule of thumb would be: for a distance of 20 feet you should have at least a 2-inch change in elevation. For a distance of 50 feet you should have at least a 5-inch change of elevation, and so on. This would equate to an approximate .83% slope, which serves as a good reference. When grading a turf infield, if you don’t have adequate slope from the infield to the outfield, it may be necessary to slightly crown the skinned area to allow for water movement in two directions.
Care should always be taken to position base inserts at the proper elevation. If your infield has adequate slope toward the outfield, you should position base inserts lower than, never level with, the infield turf. Leveling base inserts with the infield turf will inevitably cause standing water problems in front of the base. Always position home plate a minimum of one inch higher than the surrounding turf to minimize standing water in the home plate area.
Compaction of the infield skin presents another problem on baseball infields. The cause of compaction would appear obvious; the results of compaction are many. To offset the effects of compaction, you will find it beneficial to till the infield mix a couple of times during the season. Take care, though, during the tilling process to avoid surfacing rocks or native soil from beneath the infield mix. To prevent this from happening, employ a soil probe in various locations to determine the depth of the infield mix.
In tilling the infield mix, you might also consider using a solid tine aerifier, with tines that vibrate, also known as an aeravator. This piece of equipment occupies an essential place in many equipment arsenals, due to its dual-purpose applicability on turf as well as on infields.
After tilling or aerifying the infield mix, make sure to smooth it with a roller and groom it in order to return it to the proper grade and consistency. A small, one-ton roller serves this purpose quite well. If the roller has a vibration feature, take care not to operate that function, as it will create too much compaction. In the absence of a one-ton roller, a small, water-filled roller will substitute nicely.
Once you have rolled the infield mix, work up the top quarter-inch using a nail drag or similar process to provide a firm yet cushioned playing surface. Follow this procedure in the spring when ample moisture remains available naturally. If you decide to till your infield during the summer or between seasons, wait for adequate rainfall, or water the infield prior to tilling. Never till a dry infield unless you have the ability to add water.
Finally, some tips for maintaining your infield:
- When raking baselines and perimeters, always rake parallel to the grass line. Raking the base lines back-and-forth perpendicular to the turf creates a belly in the base line. This belly increases the potential for ponding of water. Improper raking techniques contributes significantly to the cause of inside and outside lips at the turf perimeter. When raking, stay a minimum of 6 inches away from all turf perimeters. This will further minimize the potential for lip buildup.
- Always rake the first-base line and the third-base line and the base areas by hand, taking care to fill any depressions and lower any high spots created during play. Be careful to maintain proper base elevations, as infield mix tends to accumulate under certain types of bases. Such accumulation can cause the bases to lift, thus interfering with surface drainage. The first and third base areas present particular problems, in that infield mix typically blows into the adjacent turf as the result of high-frequency, recurring actions on the part of base runners and fielders.
- The areas around each base present specific areas of concern. Without exception, daily use creates a depression at each base. Make sure to fill and smooth these depressions by hand raking on a daily basis. If left unchecked, these depressions become deeper and more difficult to eliminate. At minimum, they become sources of ponding water after each rain.
- When raking or dragging the infield, vary your starting and stopping points, along with your drag pattern, to avoid repeatedly adding or taking away mix from the same areas.
- NEVER pull an infield drag into the turf; and, ALWAYS remove any infield mix that has accumulated on the drag, and carry it off the field.
- Maintain the pitcher’s mound and home plate areas by hand raking the entire areas. Fill any depressions and cut any high spots that have accumulated. Tamp down the batters’ boxes and the catcher’s box. Do the same to the wear area and landing zone in front of the pitcher’s plate to ensure a smooth surface.
- If you have access to water, dampening the pitcher’s mound and home plate areas, along with covering them, between games will improve playing conditions. Covering alone will create condensation underneath the covers, thereby providing much needed moisture to the infield mix and minimizing evaporation.
- Consider applying water to and covering base areas as yet another step in improving playability and quality. In most maintenance situations, applying water has significantly greater benefit when the area can be covered and the water is allowed to evenly penetrate the infield mix. This allows the infield mix to retain adequate moisture during games.
- Under daily playing schedules, make sure to broom, wash, and/or air blow turf perimeters two-to-three times per week, to minimize the buildup of infield mix in the turf and the creation of lips. This one principle defines one of the most important procedures in infield management for both low- and high-maintenance fields.
- After a rain, nail drag your infield to decrease drying time. When the mix feels dry, drag it with a mat or hand rake to prepare the surface for play.
- Finally, if you repeatedly use a pulverized lining material throughout the season to mark your foul lines and batters’ boxes, your field will inevitably acquire a buildup of that material on the infield. Remove this material periodically in order to prevent this buildup. Under wet conditions, this material turns to goo and can compromise otherwise playable conditions. An accumulation of lining material will, over time, have a negative effect on the quality of the infield skin.
Jim Hermann is a Certified Sports Field Manager and President of Total Control, Inc., Athletic Field Consulting and Management. Readers may direct any questions or comments concerning this article to Jim at 908-236-9118 or e-mail Jim.