Field Maintenance Tips: What You Can Do to Improve the Playability, Durability of Your Little League® Field
Rob Guthrie, Turf and Groundskeeper for Little League® International in Williamsport, Pa., manages each of the playing surfaces on the Little League Baseball and Softball complex, including two World Series Stadiums. In this collection of tips, he offers that experience, and his expertise and advice, for maintaining your community’s Little League field before, during, and after the season.
Utilize Volunteer Work Days
Organize volunteer work days in the spring and fall. In the spring, get the field ready for play by addressing any issues. Rebuild the mound and plate, fill holes on infield skin, edge grass line cutouts and seed any thin grass areas. Have a simple maintenance schedule through the season such as mowing, watering, infield grooming, mound/plate repair and edging. Have a post-game work list: mound/plate repair, raking and dragging infield skin. Finish the baseball season with a volunteer work day to finish the year with a maintained baseball field. Proper maintenance through the year will prevent a big work load in the spring. Keep your field maintained through the year.
Utilize the 1/3 rule. Never remove more than 1/3 of the grass leaf blade in a single mowing. Removing more than 1/3 of the leaf plate can hurt the plant. Adjust your mowing height based on field conditions. Increase your mowing frequency to 2 or 3 times per week during the growing season. Mow when the turf is dry, this helps reduce grass clumps and results in a better cut. Invest in an appropriate mower. Zero turn mowers will accomplish mowing tasks faster, making it feasible to increase mowing frequency.
Utilize Mound/Plate Clay in High Wear Areas
Clay can be quite beneficial in providing a safe and consistent playing surface. Using basic hand tools (hand tamp, rake, shovel, broom, string line, and measuring tape) pack clay into batter’s boxes, the catcher’s box, and pitching mound, or pitching circle. Consult the current Little League rules, regulations, policies for field specifications. Once built to specifications, cover with thin layer of calcine clay and keep under cover. Using clay in high wear areas will help prevent holes in these areas from forming and provide players with a much safer playing surface. Repair these areas after each use or at the end of a day.
Keep a Basic Set of Hand Tools On Site for Field Use
Providing parents and volunteers with the necessary tools for field maintenance can make a big difference. Such tools include infield leveling rakes, leaf rakes, hand tamp, hand drag, shovels, string lines, and chalk liners or painters. Keep tools stocked, buy some each year. Over time your league will accumulate a good set of field maintenance tools.
Proper Ways to Rake and Drag a Field
Proper raking and dragging techniques help to reduce the formation of a grass lip on an infield edge. Always rake with a grass edge not into it, and avoid pulling infield material into the grass edge. When dragging the infield, stay at least six inches away from the grass edge. This will help reduce the amount of infield material moving into grass edges. I have always found hand tools to be more effective than a motorized field drag. A screen drag, nail drag, and infield leveling rakes are a basic set of tools for proper infield care. I generally use a hand screen drag on the infield skin and warning track, and a hand rake on baselines, infield cutouts, pitching mound, and home plate.
Proper Way to Dry an Infield Skin
First if your budget allows, laser grade the infield skin periodically. Keeping the correct slope on an infield skin will drastically improve drainage by allowing surface water to drain off. Over time low areas will develop on your infield skin from a result of play. In turn, water will collect in any low areas. When dealing with standing water, first try to remove as much as possible. Puddle pillows are a good tool for this. Place the pillows in the puddle and soak up the water. Ring the pillows out and repeat the process. Next, use calcine clay to soak up the remaining water. Calcine can be spread with a rake or spreader. Always use calcine clay to soak water, stay away from products labeled as quick dry. Quick dry products are generally smaller in size and if used over time will clog the pores in the soil creating an area that will actually drain slower. Nail dragging is also an effective technique to dry an infield skin. Nail dragging will open the skin to allow air and sunlight in to help aid in the drying process.
If an afternoon or evening game is scheduled:
- Remove the standing water using puddle pillows.
- Add calcine clay to the surface and work into wet areas with a hand rake.
- Nail drag the entire skin and let sit until close to game time.
- Before pregame is to begin, lay additional calcine clay.
- Finish with a screen drag.
Maintaining Grass Edges
Edging is an important part of maintaining a baseball field. Both player safety and proper field play can be attributed to properly maintaining a field’s grass edges. Periodic edging will help keep lips from forming and keep the field looking sharp. To maintain grass edges, I use a small mechanical edger, hand loop edger, string line, leaf rake, and a scoop shovel. Edge the entire infield with the mechanical edger first and then start the other steps.
- Use the string line as a cutting guide to follow straight edges such as the baselines.
- Stake the string down along the edge you want to cut and follow with the edger.
- Once the edge is cut, follow with the hand loop edger to remove any stubborn grass. Be careful not to dig in with the hand edger. The goal is to remove unwanted debris while minimally impacting the infield material.
- Rake debris into small piles, then pick up and remove with a scoop shovel.
- Having a few extra hands to help move the string line makes the process go faster.
- Edging a baseball field on a bi-weekly basis is an effective way to maintain grass edges.
Preparing / Watering an Infield Skin Before a Game
Preparing an infield skin is all based on weather and current conditions. Different techniques are used depending on if a field is wet or dry. Maintaining proper moisture in an infield is directly related to how it will play. A properly cared for infield is rolled and watered to compact the surface and keep it together during a game. Rolling provides the compaction and water is the glue that keeps the material together. These tips focus on pregame and dry field preparation.
- Use screen drag and hand rake to prepare skin prior to game.
- Once field is raked out, lightly water skin to keep infield material in place. The amount of water used is related to how dry the infield mix is. In a perfect situation, the infield mix should have the same moisture content throughout the entire profile.
Every situation is different and infield management of this extent is not practical in every situation. If you have access to water, use it to keep the dust down and your infield material held together.