Results tagged ‘ Baseball ’
Stopped by The Ballpark in Arlington this week to visit with Dennis Klein, head groundskeeper for the Rangers and coincidentally it was ring day for the Texas Rangers American League Champions. Each full-time member of his crew also recieved a championship ring. Hats off to Nolan Ryan and the Rangers for taking care of the ground crew. As usual the field looked immaculate.
What makes a baseball field so beautiful is in the eyes of the beholder but how it becomes that lush field of manicured grass is all about the sportsturf manager and his staff. (For those old-timers groundskeepers are now called sports turf managers.) Baseball fields haven’t changed drastically since the 1840s back when the sport was known as knickerbockers. The bases were measured at 90ft then and they remain that distance today. The mound however has changed quite a bit. In the last 20 years, field playing surfaces for all levels have improved tremendously, Standards have increased and the need for safety was stressed. even with all of the new fancy equipment and field protection materials there is still one part of the field that remains a true art. Managing the clays. The infield mound and homeplate. To hard or to soft. It’s all about moisture and how your field takes the water during certain times of the year. Mother nature has a calendar but she will sometimes tweak it a bit and throw everyone a curve like the Yankees practicing in a snow fall a couple of days ago. The turf managers in the north had a pretty rough winter and those fields are green and ready. I’ve blogged a bit about lot of How to grow your fields etc… but each spring seeing our fields go green after harsh winters is really amazing. The amount of hours and time spent on maintaining these fields is immense.
With the 2011 Baseball season officially underway we need to say thanks to our Spring training site ground crews for getting the guys ready for the season and the job our MLB and Minor League clubs are preparing to begin. Have a great season!
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.
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. I have heard it can keep pea gravel from migrating up into the infield mix and bordering grassed areas. Geo cloth on the pea gravel may 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. I’ve seen it done both ways, I prefer to not use a geo-clothe as long as the infield clay is specified properly and installed using proper equipment.
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
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 as “Jack” 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.
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
In 2007 I had the honor of meeting Retired Colonel Joe Bevilacqua Superintendent of the American cemetery in Nettuno Italy. In addition to his position at the cemetery he and has also helped us with the field preperations over the past few weeks with equipment and resources . During our conversations he wondered if the USA baseball team may have some time to come over to the cemetery to see the site. One thing lead to another and it worked out that Team USA could be there a few minutes before BP of the Netherlands game.
The Cemetary is as humbling as Arlington Cemetary with over 8000 Americans laying rest from the Anzio beach invasion of the allied forces during WWII. The 77 acre site is American property. The players were obviously moved by Colonel Joe’s presentation of the invasion and the cemetary facts. Joe has a crew of over 16 guys that maintain the grounds which were breath taking.
Not only was there a memorial but also a chapel where over 3000 soldiers considered missing in action have their names etched into the Roman traventine marble. Inscribed in bold letters in the chapel. ” IN PROUD REMEMBERANCE OF THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF HER SONS AND IN HUMBLE TRIBUTE TO THEIR SACRIFICES THIS MEMORIAL HAS BEEN ERECTED BY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” On several unknown cemetary markers the inscription reads..HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY A COMRADE IN ARMS KNOWN BUT TO GOD”
A couple of the players were talking and I over heard one say, ” had the guys laying here not given the ultimate sacrfice we may not have been here today playing this game”.
Im glad it worked out they could see the cemetery as it really puts things in perspective as to why we are playing these games. Many Many thanks to our armed forces for keeping us safe. God Bless All of our military and those that have fallen for our freedom. Gone but not forgotten.
Anyway …. CUBA – USA tommorow for the GOLD MEDAL Check out the poster .
First a bit if history:
Rule 1.04 in the MB 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. With that change we saw an adjustment in the pitchers mechanics from the “stand tall and fall” windup 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.
BUILDING A REGULATION MOUND (Option 1)
Tools and materials:
Plate compactor, hand tamp, landscape rake, transit, garden rake, an assortment of shovels, (round point and flat) string, 24 inch spikes, 6 foot level, plywood planks, hammer, water and water hose, two kinds of clay. Hard and regular infield mix. Hard as in 50% clay 10% silt and 40 sand. These can fluctuate a bit but you should have the material tested to be sure it meets a a very high clay content. You are going to need abut 6 to 10 tons of hard clays and infield clay type material, a cart or loader to move the clay in…some people use the baseball team w/wheelbarrels. Hard clay comes in bags and bricks. Either work fine but for maintenance I prefer the bags.
1. Set the distance ,height and exact location you are needing to establish your mound using a transit or laser leveling tool. A professional mound’s pitching rubber is set 10 inches above the home plate. Check it by running a string through the center of homeplate to pitchers mound the second base. Keep this string handy as it will be a guide to making sure the plateau is centered.
2. After setting your distance to the pitching rubber..Lets say it is regulation at 60’6″ then measure 18 inches in front of your 60’6″ mark to find the circumference of the mound.
3. The circumference is the width of the mound… which is 18 feet. It is now important to remove 4 inches of material from the circle. Put some plywood around the edge of the mound so you trash dont your turf while you are building the mound. Using strings and the 24 inch spikes can help keep you stay on track after setting the mound height. I have seen where guys will take a string across the mound 1st to third and place the pins right at the base of the mound…if you don’t have a transit some folks will use a “line level” These instruments are not a 100% but will get you close. Use this cross line to check height as needed.
4. Use the plate compacter to harden the area. Bring in the softer clay 60/30/10 to build the base. The base is the area directly under the plateau of the mound. The plateau is 5 feet wide and 36 inches deep. Raise this area in 1 inch lifts. Water then plate tamp after each lift until you get to about 4 inches from your finish height of the mound
5. Now place your pitching rubber in the desired location. Make sure a string is ran from the plate to second base to establish the center of the mound and the center of the rubber. It helps to take a pen and draw a line through the center of the rubber as you are setting it in place
6. Check your level and height using a transit.
7. Begin to add the “hard clay around the pitching rubber to set it in place. Use the hand tamp during this period. Also use a small hand level to make sure the rubber is level.
9. Once you have the plateau built you will need to start the slope. Remember the fall is 1 inch per foot towards home plate.
10. Take a board about 10 feet long, (the straightest one you can find) and mark it at every foot starting first foot 6 inches from the rubber. Block up the board so it is level. Some people build a big “T” at the end of the board so it can stand without some one holding it. You can purchase a pitching slope frame from Beacon Ball fields or beam Clay. These are metal poles that are designed to check your slope daily.
11. The entire landing area is made from the hard clay. It is about 7 feet wide and 8 feet long. The sides and back of the mound can be made from infield clay… using the same 1 inch per lift…plate tamp, water, then 1 more inch…plate, then water,…etc until you have the slopes completed always checking your plateaus
12. Maintaining moisture is the key to the mound…don’t let it dry out and crack. The idea is to keep it moist so it is pliable and gives the players Superior footing. Get a tarp and spike it down and always keep it covered when not being used.
We can talk about maintenance of the mound later on..that’s another blog in itself.
Hope this gets you guys/gals started on the right foot. I have seen several methods and this is just one approach. Some people actually build the entire mound out of infield mix first and then take out the landing area and soft clay around the mound and then replace it…sort of like a cookie cutter method.