Spring is just a couple of weeks away and everyone will soon be scrambling to prep and open their outdoor facilities including athletic fields, playgrounds, trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas for the increased demands and high usage that arrives along with the first hint of enjoyable weather. The thought of being outside on a regular basis and witnessing the public of all ages enjoy the parks and outdoor environments that we design and the public entities maintain and operate is one of the most enjoyable experiences in the profession and something to look forward to throughout the winter season.
Spring brings high demands for athletic field usage, especially for baseball and softball facilities. Natural grass fields that are healthy and properly maintained are visually appealing, a pleasure to play on, and safer for the athletes. There are numerous procedures to be performed months in advance of the upcoming spring season to ensure the safety, durability, and appearance of a natural turf field. Unfortunately, a detailed explanation of these procedures is not able to be addressed in the context of this brief article. There is however a common nuisance of maintenance that must be addressed on all baseball and softball fields and that is Infield Maintenance.
Many infields and “skinned areas” of baseball and softball fields may require re-grading, tilling, or leveling prior to the spring season. Infield edges should be trimmed and edged in the fall, pitcher’s mound areas and home plate areas shaped and leveled, and covered for the winter. Warning tracks may require weed removal or weed control applications, and batting cages and bull pen warm up areas always seem to be neglected. Field baselines of infield mix surrounded by natural grass requires constant maintenance. The soil and sand infield mix is tossed around by running feet and raking or dragging of maintenance equipment. A lip or small bump forms along both sides of the baselines as well as the entire arc where the infield meets the outfield. This lip area is a problem as it develops into a trip hazard for base runners and infielders, as well as a small gulley for ground balls. A batted ground ball will respond in an unpredictable manner when rolling off the lip, posing a safety issue for fielders having to judge a bad bounce on a hard hit ball. On a well maintained field with adequate staffing and time to address all issues after each period of field use, the lips would never form, as the fields would be raked and infield mix would be removed from the natural grass areas and back into the baseline. Most of the time fields are maintained by drags pulled behind tractors shifting even more infield mix into the lips and surrounding turf areas. This can be repaired by hand raking or hosing the material back into the infields, or in more serious situations where the lip has developed more into a speed bump, then reconstruction of the turf edge and infield border is required.
There are many maintenance and behind the scenes activities that occur prior to enabling the “boys & girls of summer” (including us coaches) to step out on that freshly mowed turf and participate in athletic activities and practice prior to the much anticipated Opening Day. It is OUR responsibility to design, evaluate and assist in providing the safest, most durable facility to make it all happen on every player’s own field of dreams.