April 2012

Baseball Field Maintenance


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The level of competition and the expectations of your field users dictate the kind of pregame maintenance routine you’ll have. The routine is a short version of your daily and weekly long-term care. It’s an integral part of the multitude of tasks that need to be done prior to a game. The following basic routine is what would take place in typical, sunny weather conditions. Obviously, rain, snow or other disruptive weather would require major adjustments.

The game day maintenance process actually begins the day before, with the focus on putting the field in its best playing condition for the next scheduled game time. The day starts with mowing. Generally, the foul lines are repainted and the coaches’ boxes marked once mowing is completed. Since time will be limited for the pregame prep, water the infield area heavily early in the morning and/or the night before to reach the best amount of moisture by pregame so only a light wet-down is needed prior to game time. You may need to add water throughout the day, depending on the type of infield surface you have. Smooth out the mound and home plate area and cover them again.

 

Whether the field serves recreational or pro-level play, make sure you have the right equipment and tools for the pregame routine in good operating order, staged and ready to go. Develop a checklist. Cover all the details in advance. Put gas in the utility vehicle or field rake; chalk in the chalk box, etc.

This is a highly orchestrated routine, and you are the conductor. Develop a plan; assign specific duties based on the time frame you normally have, and make it consistent. Review all the details, making sure every crew member understands how everything works and knows exactly what to do. Practice to ensure it flows smoothly, striving to make it a little better each time.

Pregame for rec-level baseball

This pregame routine for recreational-level baseball is plotted for a quick 15-minute fix with a two-person crew, designated here asJack” and “Jill.” Jack drags the infield, generally with a cocoa mat, but if the surface is chewed up from practice, using a screen mat. It’s an on-the-spot judgment call, so have both mats staged and ready. Jack pulls the practice bases and inserts the plugs prior to dragging.

Generally, the infield foul lines would already be in place, having been lined out and put down earlier with a chalk marker. If not, Jack will drag the larger infield area, and the lining and chalking will take place as soon as dragging is completed.

Jill starts doing the home plate and mound work. If there’s no hitting mat, Jill will need to do hole repair with packing clay. If a mat was used, Jill just smoothes the area, first using a rake and following with a screen mat or cocoa mat. Jill then sets the batter’s box frame and puts down the chalk.

By now, Jack has finished dragging. He moves on to fix the pitcher’s mound, paint the pitching rubber and home plate and do any needed touch up on the foul lines in the infield area. Jill starts watering the infield, taking care to avoid the foul lines and the grass. Jack comes in to hold the hose once the other tasks are completed.

Jill places a towel (or an old plate) to cover home plate, lightly waters that area and removes the towel. If there are any dirt issues, Jill sweeps it off with a towel and takes a handful of chalk from the chalk box, rubs it into home plate to help dry it and removes excess chalk.

Once the watering is complete, Jill marks the coaches’ boxes if they haven’t been marked previously. Jack sets the bases and does the final inventory to ensure all equipment is off the field and the setup is complete.

Assignments are adjusted for a three or four-person crew. For example, one person will pull the practice base and insert the plug at second and start dragging from second to third base. The third or fourth person will pull the practice bases at first and third, inserting the plugs. Crew members three and four will start the infield wet-down along the third base side, while person one moves on to drag along the first base side.

Pregame for pro-level baseball

At the pro level, in addition to basic pregame maintenance and setup, there’s an entire practice setup and take down. The question to keep asking is, “What else can I do to protect the field and make it better for the game?” The array of tools to accomplish that typically include: the pitching deck and the geotextile turf protector that goes under it, the batting cage, the turf protector for the back that fits around the batting cage and the extensions or separate pieces for the fungo circles, the trapezoid section that goes on the grass in front of home plate, the home plate mat, the protective screens for first and second bases, the ball shagging screen and two ball baskets on wheels.

Take a full inventory of the tools and equipment you have to make sure it’s all staged prior to use and picked up afterward. Each person is responsible for his or her assigned area and they provide the check, down to the tiny details. If they took 32 pins onto the field to anchor a protector, they need to be sure 32 pins came off.

For years, it was the custom in the major and minor leagues to take batting practice first and the infield practice afterward. When batting practice comes first, the setup usually takes about 20 minutes and starts when the team comes out to get loose. Over the past couple of years there’s been a trend for teams to take the infield practice before batting practice. If that’s their preference, you have to prepare to put the batting practice things out there the same way, but very quickly.

Another trend in the MLB is for the visiting team to take infield practice just once while in town and the home team just once during the home stand, generally prior to their first batting practice. For most low-level minor league play, everyone takes infield practice, with each team working for 10 minutes. Pregame practice is always a double cycle; the home team goes first, then the visiting team.

Communication between the head groundskeeper and coaches is key the night before the game to find out the plans for the next day. That may include an early practice, which means a few infielders or pitchers will do some drills prior to the typical batting practice. Some pitchers don’t want to throw off the pitching deck. Bottom line, whatever they want is what you do.

Communication with the front office is essential, too, so you know all the details for the first pitch and pregame ceremony, including the performance of the national anthem. You need to know who will be coming onto which area of the field and when it will take place so you can plug it into your setup schedule. Sometimes you’ll place a fake home plate for the ceremony. Your grounds crew will need to replace it because they know how to walk across home plate, approaching it from behind the catcher’s box to avoid tracking chalk around the batter’s box.

You need a lot of people to accomplish all this, typically five or six people for the minors and eight to 10 for MLB level. In Beijing, I had 14, which was necessary because some of the equipment was so heavy. With the increased numbers, activity and visibility, the orchestration becomes even more important.

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On a typical practice day, batting practice (BP) comes before infield practice. You’ll have only 2 to 2.5 minutes to remove everything you’ve placed for BP. If your exit for the cage and screens is through the center field gate, you’ll need to take the cage and screens all the way off before infield practice can begin. If the exit is on the first or third base side, you can stage them off the field in foul territory temporarily, and then complete the removal.

Once the practices are completed for both teams, the pregame maintenance and setup begin. The basics are similar to the rec-level pregame routine, with more detail work added. One crew member will be dragging; others will be sweeping up loose clay around the mound and home plate; some will be removing any clay from the grass edge; some will be clearing any debris from the grass off the clay; some will be smoothing the area around the warning track with a fan rake; and one person with a smoothing board, rake or small drag will be working along the edges of the infield. At least four or five people will be holding the hose, with the one at the nozzle being extremely careful to keep any water from falling on the grass. Wet grass, which could result in a wet ball or damp cleats that pick up clay, is unacceptable on a sunny day at this level of play. Some crew members put down fresh chalk on the foul lines.

At all levels, the game bases are set after the watering is completed so they’ll be dry and not slick. For the pros, there’s a specific way of placing them so the logos are set consistently at first and third.

The head groundskeeper makes one final field walk, checking to ensure the setup is complete and no small details have been missed. If there is an issue, it’s fixed immediately and addressed prior to the next pregame setup. The goal is perfection.

Once you establish the most efficient plan, make it so consistent that it becomes routine so you can do it fast enough, but not so routine that you become complacent. If your guard is down, sometimes you forget something.  Above all remember you are part of the “show” and a key member of the team,  therefore presentation and how your staff looks on the field is also very important. Same shirt, cap, pants adds to the professionalism of your crew.  Planning for the unexpected is also important.  Things like irrigation system breaks, the water hose breaks, the cart runs out of gas while dragging the field, a base anchor is bent etc…  Things happen so its best to have a procedure in place to deal with the unexpected.

The above article was published in Sports Field Management Magazine

Olympic Mascots and Baseball


   Just looking over some old photos from the past few Baseball Summer Olympic Games and noticed a theme developing of some  strange-looking mascots.  In our biz,  turf managers work pretty closely with the Mascots giving them some direction as to where they can and can’t go on the field.   The last  mascots that appeared to have some connection to the country were in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.  We had  Ollie (after the kookaburra), Syd ( the platypus) and Millie (the Echidna).   Made sense… animals from Australia,  right?   They even looked like animals.

 The Athens 2004 Olympics is where it appears that the mascot theme began a movement towards the oddly shaped fellas.  The names were spot on with Phoebus and Athena,  God of light and music.  I can understand the  history behind why the mascots were chosen,  but not the look of the actual character.   I don’t think Athena looked like that.   Don’t get me wrong the kids loved them but really what were they?

In 2008 Beijing,  they expanded the mascot world with a host of more strange-looking things known as the Fuwa.  I guess they were supposed to mimic the popular animals  in china like the panda, antelope, the swallow bird and a fish.  Unfortunately they all looked pretty similar (except for the colors).    They reminded me of the Poke-man characters. They were fun but the only one  I could connect with was the panda because it was black and white.  I forgot they also added the “Olympic Flame” mascot.  Guess which one that is?

For London 2012 it appears they are keeping up with the  theme of  different  looking mascots.   These guys ( gals …not sure) are called Wenlock and Mandeville.  They are supposed to represent a couple of cities in London.  Cities?   Ok…I do like the color and their eye.

With London’s 2012 Olympics around the corner its pretty sad knowing baseball and softball will not be represented for the first time in 20 years.   I don’t want to get into the politics as to why we are not in the games for 2012.   As one can assume it has to do with the politics of multiple organizations and different agendas.  It’s ironic that around about the time they introduced the strange mascots in 2004  they started talking about booting baseball and softball.

I do know that the IBAF,  ISF and MLB are working together to get baseball and softball back in the games for 2020.  Maybe by then,  the phase of  odd-looking mascots will fade.

Is it time to rebuild your Baseball Homeplate area?


Planning to rebuild your homeplate?  If it looks like this well I think you waited to long.  I see to many fields and once in a while i run across one that makes me cry.  Im not going to mention where this field is but obviously there is a problem with both safety and playability.

Preparing to build a field starts with homeplate.  The entire ballpark is determined by where the back tip of homeplate is located.   orientation is always discussed as an issue and what MLB recommends is a direction fo North-Northeast which works fine for ballparks North of the 3o latitude. Homeplate areas vary in size typically they are 26 ft in diameter however many make them larger to 30ft to reduce turf wear and tear.  Again 26ft is a recommendation. The actual home plate is made of rubber and has five points.  A regulation home plate is a 17-inch square with two corners of the square removed.  The dimensions of home plate are 17 in. by 8½ in. by 8½ in. by 12 in. X 12 in.  The home plate is set into the ground with the point at the intersection of the lines that extend from home plate to first base and third base.  The 17 in. side of the plate faces the pitcher.  The two 12 in. sides face the first and third baselines.  The top edge of the home plate should be bevelled (have a slanted edge).  Home plate is set into the ground, level with the ground.  The homeplate should be a smooth slab of white rubber.   The Schutt Bury-All type home plate is the most used throughout North America for higher level play.

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