Feature Article - February 2008
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Solid Ground

Ensuring Turf Is Tough Enough

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Play ball

Not every school or parks and recreation department has switched to artificial turf, of course. Community baseball fields are still, by and large, natural grass with dirt infields and warning tracks.

Baseball infields require special grooming. David Lynch, a spokesperson for a manufacturer of a groomer designed specifically for infields, explained that keeping an infield smooth and level is safer for ballplayers—they won't twist an ankle if they don't hit holes or tiny hills—and it makes for a better game because balls aren't taking bad hops or hitting rocks. Some groomers also have tines that will allow a wet field to dry faster.

Speaking of wet infields, clubhouses should keep a calcined clay product on hand to spread on the dirt after a rain. For years, cat litter was a handy substitute for the calcined clay. It is recommended, however, that the cat litter be kept for its original use and not put on the base paths. When mixed with wet earth, cat litter becomes a slimy mess.

Infield dirt can be cleaned to re-energize and clean the soil, improving the playing surface.

"Effective cleaning is accomplished by lifting the sand from the surface, screening it through a powered oscillating screen, retaining all objects larger than the chosen screen size and then returning the sand or soil to the seedbed," said Mike McPherson, a sales representative for a manufacturer that produces screeners for landscaping and beaches.

Grooming the field should be done slowly and deliberately. Try to avoid going into the outfield grass. In fact, the groomer should be kept at least six inches from the grass.

Once the infield dirt is cared for, grounds crews need to focus on the bases themselves. A poorly installed base can cause injury. One athletic field equipment manufacturer suggests the following tips:

  • Turn each base upside down and check attached anchor stanchion for loose screws, bolts and rusted or broken welds. Document all observations thoroughly.
  • Turn each base right side up and check condition of base cover. Look for rips and cuts in the rubber or canvas. These are potential tripping hazards for ballplayers. Repair or replace them immediately.
  • Make sure all bases retain good surface texture and resiliency. Smooth base covers or bases that have lost all resiliency present a slipping hazard to ballplayers. It is preferable to clean bases with a quality tire or vinyl cleaner rather than apply multiple layers of paint, which may cause the base cover to harden over time.

Warning tracks need special care, too, said Lynch. "It may be a different material than the infield, so that needs to be taken into consideration."