Now that the 2014 MLB Panama exhibition series between the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins has been officially announced, I can tell you we have been hard at work prepping the field for over a month. Rod Carew stadium in panama is no stranger to big league games and events. Last years WBC qualifier , the 2011 baseball World Cup and the 2004 olympic qualifier have been great events at the ballpark constructed in the late nineties. Seating about 27000 with short dimensions to the left and right field fence at 321ft the hitters may be drooling, but beware of this illusion because the ballpark sits in a valley that can suck the lift out of baseballs that should have easily cleared the fence. On sunny afternoons we have seen the opposite. It’s a standard 400ft to center. The ballpark was designed to expand to 45,000 but that has stalled in the past years. Rain tends to plague this rainforest region but in 2011 a new drainage system was installed in the field and it works wonderfully. The area of the ballpark is continually expanding which like anywhere else in the world causes traffic congestion. The taxi drivers in panama are ” talented” drivers with each having an entire horn-honking vocabulary. Everyone knows everyone!
This series was planned to show appreciation for one of the greatest closers in baseball , Mariano Rivera . The renovations of the ballpark actually began to take place after a movie production that caused a bit of damage to the infield and outfield. All areas have been sodded and the field is looking better for the mid march series . Our sportsturf team , Joe and chad have been putting the finishing touches on the mounds and bullpens with the local field crew. I can assure you this ballpark will be rocking when the hometown hero Mariano and the Yankees take the field. It’s going to be crazy! Big tip: If you plan on coming to the game , come early…..Real early.
With the 2014 Olympics taking place in Sochi , Russia it brought back some fond memories of my tours through this wonderful country. The photo above is actually the first pitchers mound constructed in the USSR. I didnt even know it until after it was built and the countries president of the baseball federation told our entourage. Charlie Eschbach President of the Eastern League at the time, took the hill for the first pitch.
The event was the USSR Diamond Diplomacy Tour . For about a month we took a group of Double AA professional players on loan from multiple MLB clubs to compete in a friendly series of games against a young Soviet Union National team in the fall of 1989. The USSR was still under communist rule so seeing a bunch of Americans walking around the Kremlin for a few weeks was rather odd for the locals. The tour was managed by Sal Artiga President of Minor League BAseball and Eastern league ownership but the core guys were Peter Kirk and Charles Eschbach. The games began in Kiev’s 80,000 seat Dynamo football stadium. I had a fun time explaining the rules of the game and dimensions in Russian but we got through it. Some pretty good players ( Don Buford Jr, Troy Neel, Jeff bannister (now manager of the rangers) Dan Simmonds, Steven Scarzone, Tommy Shields) were on the team not to mention managers Dave Trembley ( Houston Astros) Stump Merrill ( NY Yankees) and even MLB umpire Jeff Kellogg.
The first game was somewhat lopsided with the USA team scoring way to many runs. Something had to change or it was going to be a very long tour. We spent a few days trying to level the field and put up temporary home run fences, backstops etc… After we played in Dynamo stadium we headed to a smaller stadium in Kiev called “Start Stadium” (above) . This stadium had a dark history as it was host to a game during WWII known as the Death Match. The story goes… German’s had occupied Ukraine and in a way of winning over the locals played a Russian team made up of “bakers” who were actually ex-pro players from the Russian leagues. The Russians won the game even though they were warned by the SS not to win.
According to the story we were told in Kiev, after the soccer game about 10 players from the team were placed in concentration camps and several were shot. Well… when the USA players heard this story, they re-thought the game plan for this makeshift ballpark because they were the first American Pro baseball team to play on the field.
After some internal discussion, it was determined to not “go as hard “ for this game. USA won but not so lopsided. It was a good time to show diplomacy in this tour to say the least. After the second series they decided to create the “UNITY” games and hold a mock draft and split the teams up more evenly to the satisfaction of the Soviets and USA.
From Kiev ( in the Ukraine) we went north to Estonia and played in Tallinn (Kadriorg) stadium. Once Again we had to recondition a soccer field for a baseball match. Here is where we constructed the first professional pitching rubber on Soviet soil. ( TOP PHOTO) It wasn’t much, but ESPN and the owners played it up like it was the creation of the Washington Monument. Along the way in each city we made some friends and I still think about them to this day. Most of my groundscrew were 12- and 13 year old kids playing baseball for the club teams.
Before leaving for the USSR, I had read about the trading frenzy the locals had for USA goods. Jeans and shoes were a hot commodity. They wanted to trade rubles for dollars and that didn’t go over very well. I took over a sega game video station an traded for a box of maroushka dolls, hats, etc.. Still have a couple.
After Tallinn we headed to our final stop in Moscow. They actually had the only real baseball field in USSR but timing was bad for our games. We were now in late September and the weather was pretty bad. It started to snow, sleet etc.. which shut down the opportunity on our final days in the country to play on a real field. Weather forced us improvise and set up an indoor soccer arena for the final game. Arena ball at it’s best!!! (PHOTO BELOW) With 25ft tall nets and the entire sides covered, it was perfect. Ground rules were simple… play it off the net anywhere. We used a box of athletic tape to mark off the field dimensions and actually taped down the bases to the turf floor. It was pretty cool. ESPN’s “This Night in Baseball” followed us around the country and did a story. I found the 30 minute show in 2 parts on Utube. Part 1 and Part 2
Although this event was 25 years ago its nice to look back and see where the game has gone internationally. MLBI and IBAF have done so much in recent years to expand the game. Ironically the Soviet Union broke apart about a year after the tour. I guess the diamond diplomacy part worked after all.
I went back a couple years ago to check out a venue for the Baseball World cup. Jim Baba Canada’s GM of “everything to do with baseball” traveled with me. Just a great guy. We went to see M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University Baseball Venue and although it had potential, we just didn’t have the time or resources to pull this one off. The game is growing around the world faster than ever thanks to WBSC.
Baseball’s pitching mound has evolved several times over the years. Back in the late 1800s, it was 45 feet from home plate and the pitcher could take a couple of steps with the ball when throwing. Later, the pitcher had a 6-foot-square box as the designated area and had to stay within that box when throwing. The mound was initially defined in the rules in the early 1900s with the pitching rubber at a height of no more than 15 inches above home plate. Because mounds were at varying heights up to 15 inches, the rule was changed in the 1950s, setting 15 inches as the uniform height. Baseball became a pitcher’s game. In the late 1960s, pitcher Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12 and MLB’s top hitter, Carl Yastrzemski, was batting .301. During the 1968 season, over one-fifth of all MLB games were shutouts. The rule was officially changed in 1969, establishing the height of the pitching rubber at 10 inches above home plate–period–not 10 inches above the grass. That rule changed the way the game was played. At 15 inches, pitchers were told to “stand tall and fall.” With the change to 10 inches, it became “drop and drive.” The pitchers would drop down and push off from their right or left leg.
That 10-inch height is mandatory for major and minor league baseball, NCAA Baseball and most high school programs. (Check the official governing body for rules at each level of play.)
First Steps in Building your Mound. Be prepared
This is the method I use for new construction or total reconstruction of a mound. There are many other methods, but I’ve found this is the simplest way.
You’ll need a plate compactor, hand tamp, landscape rake, shovel, level board, a small tiller , hose and a water source. I prefer the professional block-type, four-way pitching rubber. my good friend Chad Kropff at Bulldog field equipment came up with a really nice pitching rubber that does not bubble up when tamped to hard. You can flip it each year and get four years of use from it.
Picking your Mound Clay
The most important thing you need is the clay. I suggest using two types: a harder clay on the plateau and landing area and your regular infield mix for the sides and back of the mound. The harder mix has more clay, with a typical mix about 40 percent sand, 40 to 50 percent clay and 10 to 20 percent silt. The infield mix for the rest of the mound is typically about 60 percent sand, 30 percent clay and 10 percent silt. Suppliers offer several options in bagged mound mixes, some of which come partially moist, some almost muddy and some as dry as desert sand. Be aware of those factors as you evaluate your clay sources. Any of the commercially bagged, vendor-provided mound mixes are heavy in clay and good to work with. When you purchase the material from a vendor, you know you’ll be getting the same thing each time. Bricks are also available for the harder clay. Some people prefer these, which are packaged moist and ready to go into the ground. Others prefer the bagged mixes for more flexibility in establishing moisture levels. If you have a local clay you think is good have it tested by a local agronomist for clay content.
You’ll want to have 8 to 10 tons of clay available to build the mound; 2 tons of the harder clay and 6 to 8 tons of the infield mix. You’ll need wheelbarrows or utility vehicles for loading and unloading it–and people to help move it.
The most accurate way to set your distances and heights is to use a transit with a laser. If you don’t have access to this, you can use a string line run between steel spikes with a bubble level that you clip onto the string. Or, you can build a slope board.
Where does the mound go on a field?
Plan for the proper orientation when constructing a new field or when building a mound for practice purposes. You’ll want the line from home plate through the pitcher’s mound to second base to run east-northeast so the batter isn’t looking into the sun when facing the pitcher. As you prepare to construct the mound, use the transit and laser or string lines to make sure home plate, the pitcher’s mound and second base are accurately aligned and everything is square.
For a regulation MLB field, the distance from the back tip of the home plate to the front of the pitching rubber is 60 feet 6 inches. The typical pitcher’s mound is an 18-foot circle with the center of the pitching mound 18 inches in front of the pitching rubber. That makes the measurement from the back of the home plate to the center of the pitcher’s mound 59 feet. Too often, the rubber is accidentally placed in the center of the pitcher’s mound so be sure you have the measurements right.
If you’re using the string line, place one steel spike behind the pitching rubber location and one just beyond home plate. Put a pin at the 59-foot point in the center of the mound area and stretch a 9-foot line out from it, moving it all around the pin to mark the outer line of the 18-foot circle. If the grass is already in place, protect it with geotextile and plywood while you’re building the mound.
As you begin to install the clay you will build the mound in 1-inch levels, creating the degree of moisture you want in each level so it will be just tacky enough for the new layer to adhere to the previous one. Use a tamp to compact each level. It’s important that the hard clay used to build the plateau and landing area is a minimum of 6 to 8 inches deep. You can put down plastic or wrap the tamp with a towel or piece of landscape fabric to keep it from sticking to the clay. You can’t add soil conditioner between these layers, as that will keep them from bonding together. Check the measurements of the height, using the transit and laser or the string line, with every lift of clay.Leave the pin in the center and place a second pin where the pitching rubber is going to be and mark the pin at 10 inches above home plate. Then, start bringing in the clay to form the base of the mound. Establishing the right moisture content within the clay mix is the key to building the mound. That consistency has been described as just a bit drier than that of Play-Doh when it first comes out of the can. It’s one of the instances where the science and art of sports field management mesh, learning by doing what that right consistency is given the material being used, the outside temperatures and humidity levels, sun, shade or cloud cover, wind speeds and direction. These factors vary daily–and often hourly–and make a difference in the formula that will keep the mix at just the right moisture level.
When you’ve built up the subbase with hard clay at the 60-foot-6-inch area to a 10-inch height, construct the plateau 5 feet wide by 34 inches deep. Position the front of the pitching rubber 60 feet 6 inches from the back of home plate. Set it firmly in place, making sure it is level across the length and width, with the top surface exactly 10 inches above the level of home plate. Draw a centerline through the pitching rubber and run a string from home plate to second base to confirm the rubber is centered.
With the pitching rubber in place and the plateau completed, you can begin to build the slope toward the front of the mound. Begin the slope 6 inches in front of the toe plate creating a fall of 1 inch per each foot. Double-check the accuracy of the slope using the transit and laser or the string line.
You’ll be using the harder mound clay to create the pie-shaped front slope of the mound, as this section will provide the landing area for the pitcher. Use the same method of clay mix, water and tamping, working in 1-inch increments.
You’ll use the infield mix to construct the remainder of the mound. Begin working from the back edge of the plateau using the same layering process. Use the edge of the slope board or a large wooden plank, positioning the top edge on the back of the plateau area and the other edge of the board on the edge of the grass to guide the degree of slope for the back and sides of the mound. Looking at the mound from the front as a clock face, you’ll be completing roughly the area from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to transition into the wedge in the front of the mound. You’ll want a smooth area of slope for the back and sides so that the side section precisely meets the edge of the pie-shaped wedge that is the front of the mound. Upon completion, the mound should look like a continuous circle with no indication that different materials have been used.
The dimensions, working from the outer edges of the 5-foot-by-34-inch plateau, are mathematically accurate to make the back and side segments a perfect fit. They tie into the wedge with the 1-inch to 1-foot fall of the front slope that begins 6 inches in front of the pitching rubber.
Once the mound is completed, top it with a 1/8-inch layer of infield soil conditioner so it won’t stick to the tamp. Then, cover the mound with a tarp and keep it covered to prevent it from drying out and cracking. Once the mound is properly constructed, you’ll have only the easier, but ongoing, task of managing the moisture level as you repair the mound after every practice and game.
Excerpts of above article Published in Sports Management Magazine