Over the past couple days I had the chance to meet some future MLB groundskeepers at the Houston and New Orleans Youth Academy field maintenance clinics. It was a great event in both cities with a wonderful turnout of current and future turf professionals.
At our clinic in Houston, we had some super guest speakers. Dan Bergstrom with the Astros, Tom Burns with Diamond Pro and our Chad Olsen . We went through mound an homeplate construction, infield and turf management – stressing safety for the kids that play on the fields in their parks. One of the highlights was talking with a group of students from Nimitz High School who attend the Co-op AG program. The teacher brought the students to expose them to sportsturf management. It was great talking with them about a career in this industry.
From there we headed to New Orleans for their Academies inaugural clinic. This venue just opened a few months ago and is still being updated and improved. Most of the attendees were from local parks and rec as well as nearby universities. Again our speakers provided a lot of grass roots education for the group. Rene Asprion, Tommy Marks, Chad Olsen and I presented topics on turf maintenance, field layouts, construction and safety tips. A BIG Thanks to Darrell Miller, Eddie and D.Wade from the UYA team for all your help in pulling these clinics together. MLB is making a major effort to provide education around the world in developing better fields. These clinics are a key component of that initiative. Future clinics are being planned in Compton, CA and DC so stay tuned.
Had a great time the past couple days with the Academy and Winter league club stadium operators and groundskeepers. We had representation from 29 MLB Clubs and 4 of the Winter league stadiums. This was a free clinic to all the guys. Special thanks to our friends at Covermaster and Diamond Pro for helping out with the discussions.
The Tampa Bay Rays facility always shines. This year’s clinic went into 2 days and covered facility management and security of the academies. Carlos and Ismial from the DR office. You guys Rock!
This year is the 25th anniversary of the USSR Diamond Diplomacy Tour where a group of Double AA professional players on loan from multiple MLB clubs competed in a 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 around the Kremlin for a few weeks was rather odd for the locals. The tour was managed by 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, 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
Its official. The H.E.M big league weekend in San Antonio held at the Alamodome featuring the Texas Rangers and the San Diego Padres MLB exhibition series in a first-ever baseball field layout was a success. The Ryan Sanders group and the Texas Rangers achieved what they had hoped to see. A great field, great crowds and an event that has been talked about for a long time. You really need to see the following link to understand what was achieved in this event the day before easter. Alamo Dome 1st ever baseball Conversion. It shows the Dome going from a arena football event to the game in 5 days. Two totally different floor layouts.
The transition teams for the exhibition match at the dome (Astroturf, Ryan Sanders Sportsturf, Alamo Dome staff, padding crew, John and his vinyl guys ) did an outstanding job with the renovation. When you do something that has not been done before, you really need a group that is focused on the final goal. Every issue that became an obstacle or a concern was approached with a positive attitude in order to come up with a solution. Safety issues were set as the main priority and operational challenges were continually defined. The grounds crew from the Missions ball club also chipped into help with the event. I will have to say there were quite a few challenges but the team that was assembled worked very well together to ensure success. Garrett and his entire crew were top notch. Reid Ryan and JJ Gottch were a great management team. They were not only great grounds guys but chipped in at the last minute to be the ballboys down the lines during each game.
The Rangers won both exhibition games and ironically it wasn’t as lopsided as people thought it would be. The right field fence is only 285 down the line. Although the guys had fun with the short porch in BP, during the 2 games it may have only been a issue in 1 home run. In fact the Ryan Sanders group made BP part of the fun for fans allowing them in to catch all the homerun balls. They also added special balls with stamps on them with the sponsor logo for prizes. Pretty cool. Another highlight was working with my “old” friend Tom McAfee who is the operations manager at the Alamodome A great supporter of baseball in the area and more importantly can still run a pretty good line! Thanks Tom to you and your team.
Plans are underway for the Big League weekend at the Alamo dome in San Antonio The San Diego Padres take on the Texas Rangers for a two game series before texas opens the regular season Sunday. The Alamo Dome has hosted numerous other events including the NCAA Final’s , AFL football, concerts, monster trucks and now they can add baseball.
My old friend Tom McAfee runs the building operations and Garrett Reddehase head GK of the round Rock club have been working on this event for a while. Since this past Sunday they have transformed the dome’s floor into baseball mode which has not been a simple task considering it has never been done.
With 285 down the right field line i am sure we will be seeing some exciting plays. with 437 to center its a bit more challenging. The Astroturf MD-60 is the turf being used at the venue. The same plastic grass is in the Bluejays park. Under the turf we installed a clay base so there could be enough depth in the clay pits for ample compaction.
Cant say enough about the Alamo dome staff and the Ryan-Sanders group on how everyone has pulled together to make this event possible. They are expecting big crowds this weekend for the two game series.
Pretty cool ballpark. Kudos to Chad, Kevin, Eric, Isaiah and Anthony.
Technically, the term infield skin refers to segments of the baseball field that contain clay, specifically the areas around the bases and base paths. The keys to quality infield skin are good materials, proper moisture and consistent maintenance practices. With 70 percent of the game played on the infield, having a consistently firm, smooth playing surface is essential. The photo above is from a youth league in Taiwan where the kids use water cans to darken the soil in the shape of an infield. Below – - They mark the field too. Just awesome!
Infield mixes are made from various combination’s and percentages of sand, silt and clay. People consider the general standard for an OK infield to be 60 to 70 percent sand, 30 percent clay and 10 percent silt. Particle size also makes a big difference in these materials. Infields vary greatly by regional conditions, commercially available mixes and the preferences of the sports field manager and their facility and teams.
The weight of the infield mix is in the clay and the silt and that’s what retains the moisture. You may be in an area with a lot of rain, and if you don’t have much maintenance help for tarping you’ll want to have a bit sandier infield mix. If you have a heavily used field or one for university or professional play, you’ll probably want a more stable infield with a heavier mix containing more clay and silt to withstand the wear and tear of multiple events. For some infield mixes with lesser percentages of silt and clay, a conditioning amendment of calcined or vitrified clay is worked into the top 1 to 2 inches of the mix to help bind the clay and stabilize the infield.
When constructing a new field or rebuilding an existing one, the general depth of the infield material for the baselines is approximately 5 inches. The depth, the type of material used and the subbase components are subject to budgetary constraints. There are fields with the infield mix placed directly on the subbase soil, some on a sand layer over the subbase soil, some directly on a pea gravel layer and some on geo cloth covering any of these subbases.
Opinions differ on whether a geo cloth layer will be detrimental to drainage. While drainage within the infield mix will vary according to the percentages of clay and silt, it is generally slow, so many prefer the geo layer for other advantages. It can keep pea gravel from migrating up into the infield mix and bordering grassed areas. Geo cloth on the pea gravel does keep the infield mix from sifting into the gravel, reducing the need for continual addition of the mix during the first few years of construction and helping stabilize the surface more quickly.
To counteract slow drainage within the infield mix, many fields are constructed with a slope to help move the surface water off the clay and into the grass. A slope of about .5 percent, extending from the edge of the pitcher’s mound out past the 95 arc should provide sufficient water movement for most fields. Some skinned baseball infields and some softball fields are constructed with a greater percentage of slope.
It’s critical to achieve consistency of slope across the entire surface. Use laser-grading equipment and a skilled operator. Otherwise, once all the material is in place, run string lines from the infield grass to the outfield grass across the infield and work your way across the field with shovels and rakes. Keep moving the string lines every 1 to 2 feet, and check and recheck for accuracy as you move.
An in-ground irrigation system with a zone that only waters the infield clay is one way to deliver volumes of water quickly. When water patterns are diverted in windy conditions, hand-watering will be required to reach the places missed.
Quick-connect outlets behind the mound and behind home plate provide access to hook up a water hose. Some field managers place quick couplers at the infield corners behind first and third base in the grass. A 1-inch hose is preferred to deliver a larger volume of water faster. A retractable hose reel installed in the ground behind the mound makes pull out and rollback easier and eliminates hauling the hose out and back for each watering.
Select hoses and hand-nozzle sizes based on the number of fields you need to maintain and the size of your crew. Ideally, your nozzle selection should be able to apply enough water to reach the desired depth for the initial soaking and to lightly mist repeatedly to maintain the desired moisture level. Some infields drain so well that you can “puddle” the infield after a night game and it will be perfect for play by morning.
Top it off
Using the different calcined or vitrified clay amendments as the top surface coat can make it a little easier to manage the skin moisture levels and achieve consistency. You don’t want the players to pick up wet clay on their spikes or have the infield get too dry during the pregame workouts. With a topping of 1/8 to .25-inch, you can soak the infield as you would normally and have a good surface for workouts and sufficient moisture retention for the game. Consistency of depth is extremely important during the initial application of the top layer both for accuracy of the slope and footing for the players. Once in place, use a cocoa mat or the back of a fan rake so you’re just lightly smoothing the top surface and not moving piles of material.
An infield tarp is an important tool in moisture management. No one likes to use it, but covering the infield when you have rain issues can be the quickest and easiest way to preserve playability.
The worst thing you can do following a heavy rain on an uncovered field is to work the field too early. Let the sun do its work on the dry down before you get out there to squeegee, rake and dig. The dryer subsurface material will try to draw down the moisture from an undisturbed wet surface. If you must work existing or added material to dry down the surface, use a roller squeegee rather than a rake to spread the water so you’re not cutting into the wet material and disrupting that downward movement.
If you have depressions with standing water, fill them with calcined clay and let it soak up the moisture for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, spread out that moist material to dry further, or borrow a technique from ground crews in South America to remove excess water with no surface penetration. They use a supply of 12-by-24-inch foam-rubber sponges (old padding) and place one in an area of standing water, step down on it, allow it to absorb water to capacity, pick it up, wring it out and use it again.
Another technique to combat light rain or drizzle, and to use between innings when the dirt is starting to look shiny, is to apply a very thin layer of conditioner using a regular walk-behind or hand-held spreader set for the largest opening. You’ll get a more consistent layer than pouring conditioner from the bag or putting out piles to spread.
Working the dirt
The right equipment used properly is critical in maintaining the infield skin. You’ll want a series of different types of drag mats, rigid and flexible steel mats for breaking up dirt clods and leveling, and cocoa mats for finishing the surface. You’ll need both a fine nail and heavy nail drag for scarifying the surface and digging deeper to further loosen the mix and allow better moisture penetration. You’ll need rakes, brooms, edgers and rollers. The 1 or 2-ton roller will become your favorite tool.
The three-wheel field rakes produced by the major equipment suppliers do an excellent job, and they come with an assortment of attachments, as well as connection points for other implements. You also can use a small tractor, lawn mower, utility vehicle or golf cart to pull the drags.
Always pull the bases and insert the plugs so you can drag the entire infield. Pay close attention to the wear areas around and in front of the bases, such as where the first baseman plants his foot. Consider incorporating a heavier clay mix 10 feet out from first base and also at second and third base to make it easier to reduce divoting and keep indentations from forming. Follow different routes when driving equipment onto the field to reduce compaction issues. Transport the drags to the field and drop them at different spots each day. When working the field, keep attachments, drags and screens 6 inches away from the grass at both edges of the base path to avoid lip build up. Use a variety of dragging techniques, continually altering your patterns and incorporating circular spirals and figure eights. Go slow, especially in the turns, to avoid slinging materials.
To avoid creating lips when hand-raking, always rake up and down the base path, not across it. Work the grass edges with a fan rake or stiff-bristled broom after every practice, workout and game. If you don’t have the staff for that, use the water hose to blast the infield mix from the grass edges at least once a week.
You’ll want to edge the infield grass periodically, cutting away turf to remove any lip buildup, then backfill with new infield mix, tamp down firmly and test the edge. There should be no transition between the grass and the clay. If you can feel even the slightest difference with your foot, the ball can feel it when it hits, and that’s what causes a bad hop.
This article was published in sports field management magazine
With Rounds 1 and 2 coming to a close there have been some great stories and awesome competition during the first 2 weeks of the WBC. The Games in PR were packed as were the game sin Japan. Country pride says a lot for each of the teams competing. I love the ground crew T-Shirts in Taichung. “United at the seams divided by country.” In our case its more united by the rake… nevertheless a pretty cool T-shirt. The fields have played well all the way around so far. Some really hard work by each of the crews and the local staffs in each country. Looking forward to seeing some photos from our US ballparks that hosted some of the first round action.
Chad Olsen has been overseeing our Japan fields, Kevin Moses, Joe and Darrell in Taichung and Chad K., Dennis and myself in San Juan along with some help from Eric, and Anthony. Our groundcrew in San Jaun had the tarp down to a mere 1:30 seconds. With rains threatening almost everyday we were able to get everything in with only a slight delay on opening night. Tough to do when NOAA‘s satellite services were down for a few days but they were so pumped to to a great job it made it easy.
A big thank you goes out to Deborah Martorell Meteorologist at WAPA. She really helped us out with some accurate info until the NOAA satellite radar came back up. Onto round two in Miami and the final in SF. Good luck guys!
Plans are well underway for the World Baseball Classic in all of the ballparks around the world. Its hard to believe that the event starts in about 3 weeks! As for the international venues, in the first round we have Hiram Bithorn in San Juan Puerto Rico, Fukuoka Dome- Japan , Intercontinental Stadium- Taichung Taiwan and Tokyo Dome in the 2nd round.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium – The old park built in 1962 is seeing some upgrades to the field, batting tunnels, padding, basically a little facelift. Hiram Bithorn has seen 2 previous rounds of the WBC action and the teams competing at this latin themed ballpark will create some real excitement for the fans! Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Spain. each club loaded with big leaguers. It will seat about 20,000 and is an open air synthetic turf field. Same dimensions of 325 down the lines and 400 to center.
Fukuoka Dome – Also known as Fukuoka Yahoo. We last played here during the 2006 All Star Tour. An all synthetic turf field with great site lines. Not a lot of improvements but they will see a few upgrades to the mounds and homeplate. It seats about 38,000 and was Japan’s first re-tractable roof stadium. With dimensions of 328 down the line and 400 to center its a big park with quick turf. The teams competing here are Japan, Cuba, China and Brazil. Intercontinental stadium – We just played the 2012 All-Star tour in this venue as well as several Baseball World Cups over the years. An all grass playing surface that is undergoing some improvements to the outfield and infield for the tournament. Our guys, Kevin Moses and Joe Skrabek are currently there assisting the local governments with the improvements. With distances of 325 down the lines and 400 to center field we witnessed some great baseball here for the 2012 All Star Tour. The fans in Taiwan are second to none when it comes to supporting baseball. Exhibition games are being played in Dio-Liu stadium which is about an hour outside of Taichung. Teams competing here include Korea, Taipei, Nederlands and Australia. Tokyo Dome – MLB’s season opener took place here in 2012. A very long history with MLB and Yomuri. A great partner in developing developing the game in Asia. They will see the basic improvements to the mound and home plate areas. A great ground crew headed up by Tamba and Hokike. Good luck to all the teams and federations. Its going to be a great tournament.
According to the Bible, Adam was given a job to take care of the grounds in the land of Eden. It would appear that this was our world’s first employment offer. Genesis 2-15 ” And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” . According to Christianity we are decedents of Adam… therefore from a groundskeeper. After tending the turf in the garden, Adam was offered a promotion to name all the animals including the groundhog which eventually led us to groundhog day ..
Over the weekend our sportsturf industry received a fair amount of press due to all the great turf managers working at the Superbowl and also from a fun article that Mark Newman wrote about Ground Hog Day / Grounds Crew Day which came out the day before the Superbowl. The article provides an analogy regarding the same Biblical verse.
Here is the irony! After the SuperBowl half time show they ran the Dodge truck commercial featuring the voice of “Paul Harvey” one of my favorite radio shows ever! Paul eloquently spoke about how God made farmers to tend to the land, sow the seeds, milk the cows, etc.. a really good commercial no doubt referring to the same verse.
So MLB.com and the NFL painted a similar message over the weekend about farmers and groundskeepers. Its a good day for the men and women who tend the earth! How about that!
Fyi – Genesis 1-11. “And God said let the earth bring forth grass…
Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning meaning an early spring. – but with temps like these in the Northeast, I hope that groundhog is right! There’s an old story/ rumor from back in the 20″s where the first commissioner of Major League Baseball Kenesaw Landis, considered Punxsutawney Phil’s ancestors to plan for spring training. Who knows if this is true or false but sounded interesting when i read it.
The 2013 caribbean world series began today in Sonora mx The field is looking pretty sharp thanks to Chad Olsen and the construction team in Hermosillo. The young sea spray Paspalum Turfgrass will be under a lot of use in the next week of games. A great event to open this new ballpark to the world. I’m just excited for the people of Sonora and their new venue. I am sure the city leaders and staff are Proud of the accomplishment. This park will set a new standard for future stadiums in Mexico and South America.
The new Sonora stadium in Hermosillo Mexico is almost complete. Typical details remain as with most major stadium projects, but this park is setting a standard for future venues outside of the USA. With the help of the D-backs relationship over the years the Naranjeros plan to fulfill a plan to build the best ballpark in Mexico. Congrats to the team ownership and municipal government.
Lets just say they are making a really good run at the title of the best park in Latin America! Congrats to Chad Olsen and our Brickman sportsturf team that have put time into the new field development over the past several months.
Today’s 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington DC will take place on some new turfgrass and fortunately it will be well protected by a special cover designed to allow light and rain through the product. The National Mall recently underwent a major renovation of the first 4 panels in front of the US Capital building which you can see in my previous blogs. Planning for the Inauguration event has been on the top of the agenda since we started with the project.
Similar to what is used at MLB baseball stadiums for concerts, the flooring called Teraplast is one of several types of turf protection being used to protect the mall’s 6 1/2 acres of newly installed tall type fescue turfgrass. They started installing the cover about 3 days ago and will begin to remove it this afternoon when the president is heading back to the white house.
With over 400,000 sq ft of teraplast being installed in various areas around the mall including under the main tents of the CBS and CNN structures, it’s the most ever laid in one place according to the installers. In fact they had to obtain the flooring from multiple sports venues around the USA.
My good friend Steve Legros is heading up the install of the cover and the mall’s new turf manager Mike Stachowicz ( photo above) is finally on board to help bring the new grass out of dormancy and to keep it looking great. Congrats to him on his new job and to Steve and the Teraplast crew for doing a great job at the Mall.
Only a couple weeks before the Caribbean World series and the local contractors are working hard to finish the details. This is going to be one cool ballpark when it is finished. The temps for the past couple weeks have been down into the 30′s at night which has caused some slow growth in the new turf but they are going back up this week. With the help of some local agricultural covers they are trying to keep the grass going. The final few thousand feet was laid in left field last week. Mounds are being built this week along with final touches to the infield, base installation etc… The Naranjeros grounds crew will be running with the maintenance operations for the event and are excited about there new home. They are also getting a few new pieces of equipment.
Another year of baseball is coming to an end. It was full of some great international events with the Opening Day in Japan to WBC qualifiers. Some new fields in Panama , Mexico Germany along with several other fun projects. This blog only captures the few things i have time to add during the year but as with anything there are a ton of things that go on behind the scenes to make these international events happen. A major THANK YOU to our brickman sportsturf team for helping to make this past year successful as well as our host of awesome vendors that provide products for us at many of these
Turning our sites to 2013 …. and let me say it looks to be just as exciting as 2012. We will have a hand in operations for the WBC first rounds in Taiwan , Japan and Puerto Rico. New parks going up in Amsterdam, Hermosillo and Taipei and some fun stuff I cant really comment about in a few other countries. In 2012 We sent guys to 8 different countries this an logged over half-a- million miles between the group. This year seems to have never stopped!
At this time of year it gives us all a chance to reflect on our lives and to be thankful for what we have. Family, friends our troops in Afghanistan and many others. Hoping everyone had a great 2012 and also a wonderful New year.