May 2005

Foul Pole…. Foul Ball?

How about those outfield wall catches we have been witnessing lately!!!! I see those and think to myself…. There’s another rip in the outfield wall pad that needs to be patched…but that’s just me. Spring training facilities actually have a jumping walls where players practice those spectacular plays.  The tough balls to judge are the foul area catches around the foul pole.

On Memorial day, I checked out the DC Nats game and noticed the controversy of the foul pole… foul ball call made by the umpires. Like many of you that saw the replay on TV, it sure looked like it hit the pole but was ruled foul.  I am sure similar plays around the country  are questioned on a consistent basis. 

Why is the foul pole not called a fair pole?  It delineates what is fair and what is not.  If the pole was considered foul,  you would have even a higher potential for conflicting calls.  The foul pole is called a fair pole because it lines up with the bases and the back tip of home plate making a true 90 degree angle that squares up the field. Just like a bunt rolling down the line if it stays on the chalk its a fair bunt. 

Just during the past 15 years or so they have been adding the "fair panel" which helps the umpires judge foul balls with greater accuracy. 

To help alleviate future controversies  at your stadiums and fields, the foul pole and "Foul pole" panel should either be flush with the outfield fence and the entire pole be one solid color or….. the pole should be at least 5 feet off the fence which will allow the high fly ball to easily clear the fence and reduce the chance of a possible ricochet back on to the field.   

The other interesting concept we are seeing more and more are these great big foul poles standing 50 feet tall in some parks.  Big at the bottom (12 to 18 inches) and tapering to the top at 4 inches.  Setting this pole so the tapered end and base become a "foul line" from top to bottom is not an easy task.   

Its a great game that goes either way.  Judgment calls make it imperfect but that’s the fun part. 

General Groundskeeping Terms

This is a very brief list of groundskeeping terms that may be helpful to the general public.  Add to it if you would like!

Batting Cage – A frame covered with netting that is used for batting practice on the field.

Batting Tunnell – A frame or cabled system  covered with netting that is used for batting practice off the field.

Batters box frame –  Tool used for measuring the batters box to line it

Infield Trapazoid- A windscreen type material used to protect the infield grass during bating practice

Tamp ? tool with handle used to tightly pack down dirt

Plate Tamp – vibrating motorized flat tamp to copact larger areas

Triplex mower ? a mower that runs vertical reels (golf course mower

Chalk box/Dry liner- for lining fields

Clay bricks/packing clay- mound and homeplate mix used specifcally for the repairs

Nail drag – Piece of lumber with rows of nails used for working the infield dirt.

Cocoa mat ? Mat pulled across/around the infield dirt to create a smooth even surface

Tarp ? Waterproof covering to keep excess water off infield dirt area

Lip ? Slightly elevated ridge in the turfgrass adjacent to a skinned area caused by build up of infield material

Divot ? Piece of turf torn up from the playing field turf

Skinned area ? infield dirt area around base path

Dugout ? A sunken shelter at the side of the field where players stay while not on the field

Pitcher?s plate (rubber) ?plate located on top of pitcher?s mound

Base ? any one of the four corners of the infield marked by a bag or plate

Home plate ? The base at which a batter stands when hitting and which a runner must cross safely in order to score

Warning track ? area of material or artificial material placed in the outfield and around stands to warn players of approaching boundary ? fence, railing or dugout

Drag Mat –  Sometimes can be of metal linkage… flexible of stiff depending on application

Infield clay ? mix of clay, silt and sand used in the nongrass areas around the base path

Core aeration ? The creation of vertical channels in the soil with a hollow cylinder that physically removes a core of turf and soil to a specified depth

Dethatching ? The process of mechanically removing or thinning the thatch layer between the surface of the soil and the turfgrass canopy

Topdressing ? Addition of  sand or soil to the surface of the turf

Scarify ? Process of loosening the surface of the ground in preparation for seeding, sprigging or sodding

Overseeding ? Application of additional turfgrass seed to existing turf

Soil conditioner ? materials which are added to soil to improve its performance characteristics

The Pitching Mound…


(At left First Mound in USSR "Diamond Diplomacy Tour")

Rule 1.04 in the MLB rule book states, " The pitchers plate shall be 10 inches above the level of home plate. The degree of slope from a point 6 inches in front of the plate shall be 1 inch to 1 foot and such degree of slope shall be uniform".   The rule book gos on to detail other mound specifics regarding the pitching rubber, the diameter and the size of the level area on top of the mound.

It didn’t used to be this way.  In the late 1800’s approximately 1859,  there was no pitching rubber,  only a  line that was drawn in the dirt about 45 feet from the home plate. A few years later they changed the line to a box so the pitchers could no longer take 2 or 3 steps before throwing the ball from the line. The front line of  the 6-foot square box was still 45 feet from the home plate ….not 60 feet 6 inches like it is today.  Another perspective is that the distance between home plate and the pitchers mounds initially was measured from the front foot of the pitcher during the early days of the game not as it is today where the distance is measured from the back foot. 

In those days the batters were actually allowed to tell the pitcher where he wanted the ball thrown. In about 1882 they decided to move the "pitchers box back to 50 feet because it was beginning to be to tough on the hitter.  A few years later they changed the rules again to make the pitching box a little smaller and the batter lost the control of telling the pitcher where to throw the balls.

During or around 1893, a pitcher’s plate made from wood not rubber was used.  This pitching plate was installed about five feet behind the back edge of the pitchers box which gave us the 60 feet distance.  The difference in the measurement of 60′ 6 inches  and what was measured in that era was "supposedly" blamed on the groundscrew for not measuring the distance correctly. They probably had to blame it on someone and the groundskeeper was as good as any!

One must remember the pitchers mound was still flat during those years until they set a height of 15 inches in 1903.  There is really no written notation of the word "mound" until the 1903 rules were formed.

The mound has remained the same distance from home plate for over 100 years. The next big change took place in the mid 1960’s when during that era, pitchers were dominating the game.  Low ERA’s and both leagues naming pitchers MVP’S caused ownership to make another change around 1967. Following a season where Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA and Carl Yaztremski won the batting title with a 301 average, the mound was lowered to 10 inches in 1968.  And if that wasn’t enough to change the game and make it more offensive,  along came the DH a couple years later in 1973. Dscn0418With that change we saw a change in the pitchers mechanics change from the "stand tall and fall" to the "drop and drive".

Today it appears things are swinging back the other way and they may need to make a change to the mound again (or get rid of the DH.)  Only time will tell.


Blue grass, Bermuda grass, Zoysia, Buffalo, Rye grass, bent grass, Tifsport, 419, St Augustine, Bahia, 318, k-31, Limousine, U-3, Tifway, Fescue, Creeping red etc…  I could go on for days…Which one of these is not a real grass?   U-3 is what you call three grasses in your yard and you don’t know what they are!

Breaking it down to the basics:  Grass selection is based on Cool Season and Warm Season grasses and the mysterious transition zone.  Cool season grasses is what you have in your lawn from about the Maryland/Pennsylvania border north and warm season grasses start in Virginia and go south South. The transition line varies across the states. There are pockets in Virginia, Maryland, Texas and even Utah that you can grow both types…which explains the "transition zone".  Picking your grass should begin with the zone you are in.  From that point you can get really creative with 1000’s of varieties of grasses.  The bottom line…keep it simple.  Don’t go crazy with a bunch of different seed choices in your lawn.  That could lead to a bunch of fungus problems.  2 or 3 varieties is OK but more than that is probably not necessary.

Here are some fun grass facts you can throw at the neighbor while you are out working in your lawn! 

FACT– The first white house lawnmower. Washington and Jefferson used sheep to keep the lawn under control!

FACT– "There are over 200 varieties of of tall type fescues in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware.  The type everyone knows about in the store and probably the first type…was K-31.

FACT– The grass seed state is Oregon with sales over 300+ million per year.

FACT– In the 1800’s golf courses in the UK were infected with a pests called ….. Earth worms!  This resulted in some of the great courses in Scotland developing along the seashores. Worms do not care for the salty/sandy soils.  In the US, night crawlers are actually good for the earth! 

FACT – Next time your significant other asks you if you are going to the mall and you want to work in the yard say:

"And let the earth bring forth grass..and the earth brought forth grass" Genesis 1:11-12 

FACT– First lawnmower. invented by Edwin Budding in the early 19Th century. In 1870, Elwood McGuire designed a mower that made a big impact on the homeowner. By 1885, the USA was building 50,000 push mowers a year and shipping them everywhere.

FACT– A survey in 1994 listed 43 million acres of turf in the US. 

FACT– The cooling power of grass!  8 average front lawns have the cooling power of 70 tons of air conditioning. (The average home has a 3 to 4 ton central unit)

FACT– Fresh Air… a 50×50 square pieces of grass generates enough oxygen for a family of four.  As mother natures filter it absorbs carbon monoxide, nitrates and hydrogen fluoride and releases oxygen.

FACT– Last one – A test was conducted by dropping 12 eggs onto a dense small piece of natural grass from 11 feet. NONE BROKE!  On a thin turf piece 8 broke…. and all 12 broke when dropped from 18 inches onto a rubberized track. 

Have fun!!

Preparing for the Cuba vs Orioles 1999 series

Cuba_opening_game Baseball fields around the world are managed totally different from what you might expect. Here, in the good ole USA, our stadiums have automatic irrigation systems, state of the art drainage systems, weather stations, hydraulic pitching mounds and high tech maintenance equipment!  We are so fortunate! 

In 1999, the Baltimore Orioles played the Cuba National Team in an exhibition in Havana, Cuba.  The stadium and field needed upgrading before the  deal could be completed so I was asked to put together a team to make it happen. The American crew consisted of AL Capitos, Budgie Clark, Greg Meeks and myself.   It took 3 weeks to complete what could have been completed here in days.  For example:

1. Irrigation – The field was hand watered with a fire hose. One person all night!

2. Aerfication– We brought over an aerfier on the barge from Miami with other equipment. The field was so hard you could drive a tractor trailer on it. The TORO arefier plugged over over 2 million cores, all of which were picked up by hand and wheelbarrows.


3.  Topdressing – Unfortunately, the sand to fill the aerified holes had particles very large that could have injured a player had he slid in the grass. I asked that they “screen” the sand to make it a finer material.  They set up 2 wooden sifting screens  beside these huge mounds of sand and hand sifted 100 tons!


4. Field edging – The entire field was edged with a pocket knife and clippers.  (When we opened the box from the barge that had the “Sears & Roebuck”  $179.00 garden edger, the guys who tended the field were totally amazed at such a device. Cuba_edger_training

(Click on the photo to see the crowd gather and watch budgie use the edger. After the first pass he turned it over to Pedro Almaneres who edged everyday with the unit!)

Cuba_batting_cage 5. Batting cage – They didn’t have one to use for pre-game batting practice so they built one out of iron pipe from a photograph. It was in two pieces so it connected easily.  They built it in less than a day plus all of the protective screens!

The people treated us with great respect as we did for them. The realization that this country operated under a dictatorship was difficult to comprehend until the game took place. Hundreds of people that had worked side by side with us had not been invited to the game.  Thats when we realized things were more difficult than what we thought.

The Cuban people reminded me of how simple life can be and how to use what you have to make things work. A similar experience happened in Russia in 1989 where we took 2 teams of players from the minor leagues across the soviet union (At that time it was still the USSR… a few months later the wall came down and we joked that it was because of baseball)   Just like Cuba, they had a simple life and simple ways but one could sense it was a very hard life as well. The dark side of the nation was well disguised during the diamond diplomacy tour. (That’s another blog.)

In past MLB exhibition games in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama we have had similar experiences complimented with great relationships with the people that made us very thankful for the simple tools of the trade that we so take for granted. MLBI takes the game to another country to grow it world wide.  Not only do we grow the game but we build relationships through the sport.


Hand tools like rakes, shovels and tamps are sometimes difficult to locate and the local manufacturing and quality of these tools is not even close to our standards.  When you think about the larger pieces of equipment  we use like triplex mowers and chemical spray rigs, you might as well be talking about the moon when mentioning such equipment in some countries!.

Hard work, long days, and at the end of the day there was always a smile!

What is Infield Clay?

Over 80% of the game of baseball is played on the infield, which is why the infield clay is one of the most important components of the field.Daves_greek_photos_212

Recently,  I have received a couple of emails asking the question, What is the infield clay really made of? In layman terms,  it is composed of three materials. Sand, clay and silt.  The tougher question is what are the percentages of the content of each material, and the particle size of the sand.  The composition is the true science of the infield clay even though the daily maintenance performed on these fields at a higher level is sometimes considered more of an "art". 

Most companies that provide ball diamond mix state they have a

60%-70%         sand

20%to 30%       clay

and 10% to 20% silt. 

As a general rule of thumb this distribution makes sense, but the key factor is the sand particle size which comes in numerous variations from "gravel" to "very very fine".  Angular and round and so on.   Separate tests are performed on the infield clay mixture to determine the sizes and distributions of materials as well as the percolation rates which give you an idea on how it may drain.  Normally infield clays do not drain very well and are not really supposed to depending on the level of field you have or play on.  You can obtain pretty much any type of blend you want from a company. The geographic location and your budget will drive your selection to the material you can obtain.

When I worked for the City of West Palm Beach managing the spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves and the Montreal Expos we used a higher sand base 75% sand 15% clay 10% silt with a medium course level sand that allowed the rain to pass through the infield clay a little easier.  Where you live and how much the field is used also drives the decision on the type of infield clay you may have.

The infield clay is no deeper than 4 to 5 inches and is uniform all through the mixture. On some major league stadiums the clay sits on a bed of sand and is sometimes separated with a Geo-cloth. Daves_greek_photos_055

Everyone that has been to a professional game notices the time the crew takes on dragging and watering the infield clay before the game.  The key to a good infield and making it a great one is how you manage the moisture level in the clay.  Kind of like the Goldilocks & three bears nursery rhyme " not to hot, not to cold, etc…your infield clay needs to hold the right amount of moisture to not be to soft, to dry, to hard or to moist. Companies now manufacture a material which is known in the industry as a soil conditioner. It is applied to the top of the infield to help control moisture.   These materials are sometimes called, "Turface", "Diamond Pro" , "Terra green" , "Pros Choice" etc…they are basically a calcined clay heated to a very high temperature and sized and colored to your liking.  Daves_greek_photos_223

Maintaining the infield’s moisture level requires  consistent monitoring and maintenance. Coaches and players are continually giving you feedback on the condition of the infield helping you determine where you need to be with the moisture and maintenance methods used. Based on the weather, climate, time of year and even the team that is on the field, your maintenance of the clay could change a little on any given day. Its one of the most unknown interactions in professional sports.  That’s why they sometimes call the groundskeeper the 10th man on the team!

Nagoya Dome MLB Allstar game

The entire field is synthetic even the infield dirt!

Ripken Stadium

Cal had us build a 10 rootzone 4 inch gravel field for his orioles farm team

Sydney Olympics 2000

Rings were mowed into the outfield turf

Foro De Sol mexico city (synthetic turf)

This is a stripped synthetic turf field

Captain Dynamite

GM’s of minor league clubs have got to have one the coolest and toughest jobs in baseball. The Minor League GM job description is far different from the Major league guys that purely scout talent and build championship organizations.  I have worked for quite a few of the big league guys as well.   Most were pretty good when it came to the field on the major league side, but on the minor league side the business of the GM is to put people in the park. They always push the limit on using the field.   

Rob Rabenecker (Roger Dean Stadium home to the marlins and cardinals) is one of those guys that sticks out in my mind more than others.  He always pushed the envelope on pre-game promotions …which caused a bit of tension!  One in particular came before a game in west palm beach, FL. at the old municipal stadium. 

This particular promotion featured “Captain Dynamite”  .  At the time, I was in charge of the spring training complex for the city and all promotions were discussed before approvals were granted.  Rob explained that the Captain would setup his “coffin of death” behind second base…the crowd would count down and he would blow himself up!  Sounded harmless…in theory!

In order to make the explosion have the bang it was supposed to have the Captain had to use blasting caps around the coffin.  Unfortunately, the city’s fire marshall said that would not be allowed so the Captain was forced to use M-80’s.   The Captain (70+) years old was a bit upset with the reduction in firepower but surrendered to the request.  He really just wanted to give the crowd a good show.  He was a showman and had toured hundreds of parks and it sounded like this was the only problem he ever had with Fire Marshall.

Just before game time we prepared the field for the game as usual. As I walked back towards the field just before the game, I noticed the Captain had moved his coffin of death  from the infield at second base to a location right behind the pitchers mound and was spraying something all over and around the coffin  on the grass. (Later I found out it was Lighter fluid)   The count down began 3..2..1. BOOM…The fireball from the explosion went 15 feet high.  He staggers out of what is left of the coffin as part of the show as the crowd cheers him and I am standing at the edge of the field speechless.  As the smoke clears,  I noticed that the natural green beautiful Bermuda grass behind the mound was torched crispy and black.  About a 15 x 15 square area.   Need less to say my favorite GM Rob,  was no where to be found. 

On the bright side it was good to know that the good captain was OK after the blast and he was sorry for the dead grass caused by the explosion. He was a professional performer with a lot of BANG in his day!    It is my understanding he has a daughter and son that picked up .  I am not sure if she is still touring but if she is..beware of the lighter fluid effect.  Its expensive!


Over this past weekend the Nationals played host to the Mets at RFK in a game played under the worst weather conditions I have seen in a long time.  Living in the area, I can attest that the night was miserable. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the field was puddling before it was covered with the tarp.

In most rain delay situations, everyone (even the broadcasters)become an authority on field conditions and "when to" or "not to" put out the rain cover.  I can guarantee that if the decision to cover the field was left up to the grounds crew they would have put it out a lot earlier than when the umpire or even Frank (Robinson)called for it… but that’s not the rule.   Once the line up cards are passed, the decision to play or not is totally up to the umpire.  In most cases the umpire consults closely with the ground crew throughout the game. Its a huge responsibility that the umpire shoulders in big games, with big crowds.

As far as the RFK field goes, one must remember that it is used by two pro-teams and requires numerous Field transformations.  Pointing fingers at the field is not right either. The field is fine and Jimmy Rodgers,   (Head GK) does a great job taking care of a two -team field, in an old stadium, that was literally thrown together in a course of a few months.   

Bottom line is that when it rains on any field, and you have to save the game, things are going to happen that are based on a judgment call. In most cases, even that decision, is out of your control because predicting the weather is not an exact science. 

The one issue, that must be at the forefront in all rain delay situations, is the safety of the athlete. That rule holds its value from the recreation leagues to the professional leagues. 

Rain delays are part of the game of baseball. When the USA Olympic team won the gold medal in 2000, everyone can point to a specific game that put the USA in the gold medal round against Cuba.  It was a game played under several rain delays against Korea.  Doug Mientkiewicz belted a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning – after a two-hour rain delay – to stun Korea 3-2  at Sydney Olympic Park.  Our ground crew did a great job getting that game in.

Sometimes rain delays have Cinderella stories! It just goes to show you, things can go either way when it rains.

Sunday a day of Thanks

People get through life with the help of others.  God gives us a lot to be thankful for. In the turf business, you thank Mother Nature for the sun and rain to help grow the grass.  You also thank him for your family, friends and peers that support you in whatever you do. 

This groundskeeping blog is a tool for me to thank everyone over the years in my turf career that has been a team member for getting the stadium and field ready to go.  Heres a couple that come to mind. (more to come later as this blog runs) 

Scott, Chad O, Marti, Darrell, Erik, Josh, Austin, Blair and Joe for making things happen around the world for STS. Dr Dave Davis of VPI for his photos and help in greece. Cindy and Budge.  All my STMA friends and peers. Dennis, Mike, Tim and Chad K.

God bless you all and thanks for your help along the way!


Daves_greek_photos_045_1 Those beautiful lines in those fields are not paint as (I have been asked many times before), they are made by rolling or bending the grass in opposite directions by a vertical reel mower.  Your standard rotary mower can’t perform this function because it requires a roller or some type of vertical movement to push the grass in one direction. There are some companies making roller attachments for your push mowers but I haven?t tried any yet.

Before going out and buying something to stripe your field or lawn you need to know that the type of turf you have also dictates the ability to stripe the grass. 


and fescue turfs are the best.  Also dormant Bermuda grass overseeded with rye type grass is good. 

St Augustine

and Bermudas are a little tougher but can be achieved.

If you really want to purchase a rotary stripping push mower they are available.  We use them at Cal Ripken stadium for all of the berms and they do a great job. 

The product name we use is known as the national IM25 or the I-stripe. Turfco manufactures them.  You’re not going to find this guy in your local hardware stores. 

Check to see where the local dealer is for you.

Helpful Home Lawn Tips


  1. Consistency is good in a lot of things is good, but don?t try and rely on mowing the same day each week. Rain, drought and fertilizer treatments will govern the day you should mow.  Not you!

  1. How about those dog urine spots in your lawn.  Basically, that brown area of grass is due to a high concentration of a liquid fertilizer in one little spot.  We started to give our dog a little bit of tomato sauce with his food.  This increased his water intake which diluted the urine and our spots greatly decreased.  Before you start making your dog Italian dishes, check with your veterinarian!  

  1. If you irrigate/water your home lawn, try to do so early in the morning.  Pending the time of year and location you also want to stay away from watering at night during those humid times of the year or you may be looking at a fungus problem. Water deeply, not frequently. On the other hand, if it?s a new lawn you may need to water the seed frequently for the first month.

  1. Mowing your grass with a sharp mower blade helps keep the turf healthy.  As a rule of thumb never cut more than a third of the blade when planning your mowing week.

  1. It’s also insect time of the year.  Dig into your soil and perform several inspections to determine who is living down there.  Insect damage can be the cause of discoloration and weak areas of turf.  If you find something and don?t know what it is,  the internet is a good place to look as well as your local county agricultural extension office?  Every county has one and they are free in most states.

  1. Check your thatch layer each spring. , sometimes your lawn looks weird because its hydrophobic, meaning heavy thatch is blocking water movement. This condition also prevents your fertilizers and pesticides from the roots. Generally speaking, a thatch layer greater than 1/4 inch can cause problems.  Rent a de-thacher and thin out your turf . Don?t go crazy!  We are just removing the thatch.  Prepare for a long day of work and a lot of trash bags because you will need to pick up all the debris.

  1. If you?re planning on planting seed this time of year be aware of the daily temps in your area. Plant your bluegrass seed now…. not during the summer.  You will get better germination.

  1. If you live in the south and have that wonderful St. Augustine or


    type turf grass for your lawn you are really starting to get busy.  Soil temperatures for growing plugs or sprigs of this type of turf should be around 57 degrees before they really start to take off. 

  1. Fertilize with a complete type fertilizer.  If you really want to fertilize properly take a soil sample of your lawn to your local extension office or university and have them provide an analysis.  Other fertilizer companies like lesco or Scotts also offer these programs.  If you don?t want to spend the 25 bucks for the report try to establish an annual fertilizer program using a balanced fertilizer  Ferts are broken up into ratios like 4-1-2 or 3-1-2 to give those little grass blades a well balanced meal! 

    1. The first number is Nitrogen. This really makes the leaf grow
    2. The second is phosphorous. This one helps the stem and rhizome development
    3. And the last is potassium.  This one helps the root growth and makes the plan stronger.

Good luck and if you need more info send me an email.  murrayc@  If I can?t help you out?.I will find someone that can!

Normally about this time each year your home lawn starts to "perk up".  If it isn?t, you might be missing something.  Many people have specific lawn care maintenance programs that they stick with year after year.  Establishing consistency is really important, but before you can establish consistency you have to have your yard in a ?maintainable? condition.

Here are some basic tips to help you build towards developign that beautiful lawn.