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
It’s hard to think of baseball during these frigid days, but its sunny and warm in Australia as we prepare for the MLB season Opener March 22nd – 23rd. During this site visit we had a chance to see some Cricket and watch the Ausies take on England. The new stand ( pictured above) that is located behind homeplate is just about finished and looks beautiful. It was actually designed with baseball dugouts that can be covered with temporary seating for the other sports that play at the SCG.
The Sydney cricket ground (SCG) is considered the hallowed grounds for cricket in all of Australia. However that connection does not protect the grounds from the additional use it receives annually. Cricket season runs from November to March, then AFL Rugby is typically late March till Sept. Other high traffic events include, charity cricket games and this spring the SCG will host our season opener. During our site planning meetings we witnessed daily tours with people criss-crossing the field. Just like any other major sports venue this facility has learned to adapt in order to meet the demand of a sports crazed country. Hats off to Tom Parker and his crew for keeping this pitch looking great.
The photo above is a view from behind the homeplate area. The planning for the Cricket, to baseball, to AFL football conversion has been extensive. We are shipping over a few clay products and soil conditioners to work with local materials from the states and padding from Canada. We found some nice local warning track mix, and a great sod farm. We are having to coordinate this conversion over a 10 day period. The playing surface is just a part of the overall conversion. Other areas of the conversion include entire outfield and foul territory fencing system, wall padding, bullpens, foul poles, batters eye, backstop structure, netting, dugouts, locker rooms , etc… It’s going to be challenging and fun all at the same time. Our awesome conversion team includes the SCG crew, Moore Sports, Evergreen and Pier Properties plus a few other subs. More to follow as we get closer to this event. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just a couple weeks so hope I you can stay warm with the thought that baseball season is just around the corner.
Congratulations to the Hall of Fame Class of 2014. Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox along with Frank Thomas. The Braves 1-2 punch had some help with an awesome manager Bobby Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone. You can throw in Smolzty, Avery and Merker and then Wohlers to close which kind of made it an unbeatable rotation.
Having worked for the Braves and managed the Spring training fields where Glav and Mad-dog competed during the 90’s it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this duo was destined for the HOF. West Palm Beach was the Braves spring home from 1962-1996. I started in WPB in 1988 and moved with the Braves to Disney in 1996 for a few more years during the Braves magical run.
Mad-dog and Glav would typically be the first guys to arrive in every morning around 7am. Always walk across the field to say hello, ask what the day looked like, which golf course to hit in the afternoon, where to fish, etc.. They were always appreciative of the field and our crew. Many times bringing breakfast sandwiches for the crew. I would walk in the locker room and ask how the mound performed that day and both would be happy to offer comments. These guys were SO consistent. I recall after a game where Maddox pitched in the bullpen, he thought the home plate was turned a little. Sure enough we put a string on it and it was off by ¼ inch. On another occasion, I asked him to come out to see the mound at Disney. He had thrown that day (which I didn’t get a chance to attend due to other mickey mouse duties) and I told him thanks for the autograph. He asked what i meant and I told him he always leaves a distinct pattern with his push off toe after each pitch. His foot placement across the clay and landing area was exactly the same every single time he pitched.
These guys set the tempo for the many winning seasons they had in the 90’s. Bobby would remind me every spring “this is where we start winning Mur so get us going right! ” With these two on the mound… that was easy!
A good friend in our baseball community Eric Harshman and his wife have adopted a child in Congo africa and due to the government, they along with several other families are being held up by red tape as explained in this article . Eric is the groundskeeper for the university of Kentucky.
A simple signature from the governments minister of immigration is all that’s needed and that will send these families home. . The New York daily posted a story this past week about their plight. In an effort to get the baseball community’s support please sign the attached petition and also write your congressmen to put pressure on the government in Congo to release the children to their legal families.
Wishing everyone a Happy healthy and prosperous New year!
Looking ahead at 2014 looks to be pretty busy for the international projects. Kicking off with the MLB Opener in Sydney is only a start. Also several exhibition games are being played in different parks. Enjoy the holiday and drink responsibly. Taxis are the way to go!
Twas the night before Christmas when all through the park
Not a mower was running because it was dark
We covered our grass with a turf blanket clothe
Just hoping the wind, would not blow it off.
The park was all prepped for a short winters nap
So I Snapped up my jacket and pulled down my cap
When all of a sudden there came such a noise
It wasn’t the reindeer but a group of young boys.
How could that be on Christmas Eve?
It was way to late…I just wanted to leave.
When I looked over the field to my eyes would appear
Those kids trying to start our favorite John Deere.
At first I was mad as I watched them at play
When I was a kid I was the very same way.
They spoke not a word when the cart wouldn’t start
As I heard one whisper , “Let’s dip-set this park”.
They pushed the tractor, back under the cover
And scaled over the fence , one after another
No damage was done, thank goodness for that
It was kids, being kids and not being brats.
Last season was long , we all would agree
Our fields took a beating for all to see
Throughout the year we would try and rebuild
Do you think Saint Nick might bring a new field?
We need to re sod , our crew would say
And the boss would shout out , Absolutely No Way!
The cost is too high and the owner’s made cuts
He said to be thankful, it couldve been us.
It takes hard work we tried to explain
Those concerts you book are more than a pain
Alas he would cave , you can get your new grass
Just get back to work and please stay off my @?&#$.
It’s sure to be fun for those who can wait
Merry Christmas to all…..especially my blog mates!
Two of our brickman team members Larry Cammarata senior horticulturalist and Peter Brugeman Ops Manager volunteered their time , expertise and resources to help install a new irrigation system for “Med & food for kids” in Cap Haitian , Haiti. The non profit farm grows Haitian peanuts to produce life saving food for Malnourished children. With the improvements to the new irrigation system the future crop cycles will grow larger pods , fewer disease issues and develop a complete life cycle.
They also helped the Haitians understand the different crop development stages of the peanut and how to vary the water delivery to those crop stages for a better harvest.
It’s great too hear about how our company gives back to communities around the world.
Proud to be part of the Brickman team!
The SCG members stand is a beautiful building. The foundation of the stand was laid out by British soldiers in the 1850’s. In the photo you can see the construction of the DBacks dugout on the first base side. A lot of progress since our last site visit.
The Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants played NSW at the SCG in 1914. The members stand is at the Right in this old photo as the white sox take the field. The history of this venue and how it has brought our countries together over the years is pretty cool.
First and foremost, Congrats to the Boston Red Sox on their 2013 WCS victory as well as my good friend David Mellor and his groundcrew. It was a great series.
Although the series has just ended field renovations have been underway in numerous places preparing for the 2014 season. Its a busy year for us with renovations in Lancaster and Tennessee. Also ongoing new construction in Amsterdam at the Pioniers new complex and in Australia as they prepare for the ABL season openers next next week. Not to mention a major renovation at the SCG for the 2014 MLB Opener. Hoping mother nature is good to all the contractors.
Lancaster was still “looking” OK , but after a field sees 8-10 years of high use it needs to be resurfaced because rain water begins to drain more slowly through the profile due to all the organic matter that develops over the years. The main reason it has performed so well has been the great turf managers that have taken care of the field. Anthony DeFao and Josh Viet…Two guys in 10 years. The field’s successful performance over the years reflects their hard work and dedication. The ODP group has always supported our efforts in in building and managing their fields.
Finishing touches in Hoofddorp on the Pioniers new sport complex. The main stadium field is going to be a real gem. The folks in Amsterdam had a big storm recently and some of the warning track mix washed onto the field. In an effort to remove the very small gravel they broke out the vacuum cleaners. That’s commitment!
The World Series is not the only pro baseball going on this weekend. Its also the start of the 2013 Caribbean Winter League Season. We started reviewing the pro parks in the Dominican Republic this past week. This will be our 3rd series of winter league cub evaluations. It was great seeing the progress they are making on the fields. I recall during our last set of inspections they were needing equipment and materials that was not available on the island. After seeing just a few of the DR parks this year, we noticed a marked improvement of the playing surfaces and the facilities. ( Photo above is Santiago’s ballpark.)
( Photo above in Santo Domingo) There are several reasons that I believe relate to the continuing improvements of the facilities and fields. MLB OPs has been hosting field clinics every other year in the DR, the MLB DR office has expanded and is a huge resource for the clubs as they determine ways to make there parks better. You also have clubs that are devoting more time and funds towards making their parks better for fans and players. Everyone wins! 6 years ago most of the fields were a bit rough and the ground crews were frustrated with lack of materials and overuse. Still room for improvement but…There is a new breeze blowing and it’s going in the right direction. Nice work by the MLB DR office and the WL. ( La Ramona Ballpark Below)
One end of the pitch is being graded to be more like a baseball infield in preparation for the 2014 MLB opener. They removed about 45000 sq ft of grass and slightly leveled the area where the infield will be placed in front of the new grandstand. The grandstand also had permanent dugouts installed as part of the total renovation. The SCG is not touching the cricket wicket so those hallowed grounds are safe. The SCG crew is awesome. What a great group to work with.
Couldn’t have asked for a better day for our final field clinic In Compton. The weather was great and the turnout was also wonderful. This year was our 3rd clinic in Compton since the first academy opened In 2006. Ironically out of the 70 attendees only a handful raised there hands when I asked if they attended Previous clinics. we focused our talks on fall renovations and general maintenance. It was great having Luke Yoder from the padres help out as well as Rene Garcia from the dodgers. Also had chad Olsen handling a few talks. We had Covermaster and diamond pro sponsor the clinics for this year. A big thanks to each of them. There donation covered meals and expenses for the free event. Also a big thanks to the local stma chapter for sharing resources to the group.
Next year looks like another busy clinic year And The academies keep growing.
This Natural grass baseball field construction project in the suburbs of Amsterdam is almost complete. It was put to the test after a heavy rain storm Monday evening and throughout the entire night. Overall, It rained several inches Monday and the field was totally dry as we walked across it Monday morning. The warning track also didn’t have a single puddle. This field was constructed on a parcel of land that is 5 meters below sea level. Great job city , architect and contractor.
This weekend the IOC will vote on 3 major items when they meet in Rio. The host city for the 2020 Olympics, a new chief to replace J. Rogge and which of 3 sports ( Squash, Wrestling or baseball/softball) will be included in the 2020 games.
As for which sport should be chosen as the 26th discipline in my opinion, that decision should be made based on what the federations have accomplished towards improving the sports worldwide exposure both on the field and off. The IOC members also should consider what sport will be more appropriate at building relationships through teamwork at all ages and genders. These values make our world a better place to live.
Wrestling was booted off the Olympic program just a few months ago and according to their federation have made huge changes to improve the sport. From what I have read they changed the scoring system and added two women competition classes. I don’t see much change here even though I think the sport should be in the Olympics because of its tradition. I could think of a few others that should have been considered for removal way before wrestling but that’s just me.
Squash is banking on the fact that they may not need a major sporting venue. I understand they’ve also developed a new type of graphic scoring program. I’m sure the sport has a large following but I travel quite a bit and I don’t see a lot of squash tournaments around nor do i hear people talking about the history of squash such as who their favorite team is, etc… There is a World Squash Hall of fame and the current top 10 players are from Egypt, England, Spain and France. ( five from Egypt)
Baseball and Softball have changed things drastically thanks to the leadership of Don Porter and Riccardo Fricarri co-presidents of the World baseball softball confederation. After being out of the Olympic program for 8 years, they have retooled and made strides in growing the game around the world in both genders. They have combined the baseball and softball organizations into one federation. 65 million participants play the game around the world. They have also developed a shorter competition format and the ability to host both sports in the same venue instead of building separate facilities for both softball and baseball. (That was a bit tricky but it will be cool!)
In the past ( baseball and softball) was considered an “American dominated sport”. That tagline has really changed.
1. During the past 3 World Baseball Classics you have seen teams such as Holland, Japan, Korea, Dominican Republic, Italy and Puerto Rico when top spots in the competition.
2. Who won the 2012 Pan American Games? Canada!
3. Who won the last Softball Olympics? Japan!
4. Who won the 2008 Beijing Baseball Olympics? Korea!
5. Who won the last 2011 Baseball World Cup featuring 16 top teams from around the world? Holland 1st, Cuba 2nd Canada 3rd.
Bottom line the sport has emerged in the past 10 years as a true world sport with millions of kids and adults playing the game. In my opinion (all though a bit biased as you can tell from the photos) I’m pretty sure I would vote for baseball/softball.
I haven’t really followed who will be the next President of the IOC but most people are talking about Thomas Bach. He’s from germany and supposedly made the suggestion to softball and baseball to combine federations back when they were trying to figure out what to do to get back in the games.
The 2020 site selection vote also makes for a nice dessert at this IOC function. Madrid, Istanbul and Japan will present to the group. My take is Spain has some economic issues to figure out however they already have most of the venues completed and they are a sports crazed nation but the summer games were just in Europe. Istanbul is a 14 hour car ride to Syria which isn’t great timing for that group considering whats going on today, however i understand its a beautiful country. Then there is Japan … they are probably the safest country outside of the USA and feature baseball and softball as the top sport. I think Japan has the inside track on this one but you never know.
It’s going to be an interesting weekend as the IOC members tend to vote based on protocols that no one has been able to figure out. Stay tuned!