Results tagged ‘ Moisture ’
Over 80% of the game of baseball is played on the infield, which is why the infield clay is one of the most important components of the field.
Recently, I have received a couple of emails asking the question, What is the infield clay really made of? In layman terms, it is composed of three materials. Sand, clay and silt. The tougher question is what are the percentages of the content of each material, and the particle size of the sand. The composition is the true science of the infield clay even though the daily maintenance performed on these fields at a higher level is sometimes considered more of an “art”. Most companies that provide ball diamond mix state they have a something like a 60%-70% sand ….20%to 30% clay and 10% to 20% silt. Most infield clays and baseline clays are about 5 inches deep. Bellow that there is a level of sand and pea gravel on the big league fields.
As a general rule of thumb this distribution makes sense, but the key factor is the sand particle size which comes in numerous variations from “gravel” to “very very fine”, Angular and round and so on. Separate tests are performed on the infield clay mixture to determine the sizes and distributions of materials as well as the percolation rates which give you an idea on how it may drain or dry out. Normally infield clays do not drain very well and are not really supposed to depending on the level of field you have. You can obtain pretty much any type of blend you want from numerous clay companies. The geographic location and your budget will drive your selection to the material you can obtain.
When I worked for the City of West Palm Beach managing the spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves and the Montreal Expos we used a higher sand base 75% sand 15% clay 10% silt with a medium course level sand that allowed the rain to pass through the infield clay a little easier. These days I use a more stable clay with a analysis of 40% clay 50% sand and 10-20 silt. This is a real heavy mix but can take a ton of abuse. Where you live and how much the field is used also drives the decision on the type of infield clay you may have.
Everyone that has been to a professional game notices the time the crew takes on dragging and watering the infield clay before the game. The key to a good infield and making it a great one is how you manage the moisture level in the clay. Kind of like the Goldilocks & the three bears nursery rhyme ” not to hot, not to cold, etc…your infield clay needs to hold the right amount of moisture to not be to soft, to dry, to hard or to moist. Companies now manufacture a material which is known in the industry as a soil conditioner. It is applied to the top of the infield to help control moisture. These materials are sometimes called, “Diamond Pro” , “Turface”, “Terra green” , “Pros Choice” etc…they are basically a calcined clay heated to a very high temperature and sized and colored to your liking.
Maintaining the infield’s moisture level requires consistent monitoring and maintenance. Coaches and players are continually giving you feedback on the condition of the infield helping you determine where you need to be with the moisture and maintenance methods used. Based on the weather, climate, time of year and even the team that is on the field, your maintenance of the clay could change a little on any given day. Its one of the most unknown interactions in professional sports. That’s why they sometimes call the groundskeeper the 10th man on the team!
One of the major parts of the field that requires a lot of TLC is the infield clay. Many people watch the dragging ritual before a game but probably do not realize that it’s the 4th or 5th time they have dragged the field that day using a variety of drags.. You have flex drags, rigid drags, coco mats, nail drags, float board drags, harrow drags, etc..
In addition to dragging the field before the games, groundskeepers at the pro level even drag the field during the games. There are several methods to dragging a baseball field and several factors you need to consider as to the type of drag(s) you may choose. Types of infield clay, the moisture level and your equipment will dictate the level of dragging and best type of drag you will need. Many sport complexes use the 3 wheel “sand pro” type units to pull a drag. They are fast and very agile. Some folks prefer a small smooth tired tractor to perform this function because it tends to leave less tire tracks and ruts. We even see fields being dragged by hand in some parks. Because that’s all they have to drag their field with…also many believe hand dragging puts the best finish on the infield.
The 4 ft x 6 ft flex mat is probably the most used in recreation level fields. If you need to perform a leveling task you should use a rigid drag. A rigid drag pulls more material in the screen and does not float with the contours like the flex drags. If you don’t have a rigid drag you can partially fold your flex drag which helps it to not float. The 3×3 rigid drags do a great job on the baselines as well as areas around the mound and plate by keeping them level. Sometimes for the infield, A heavier drag or one with a leveling bar on the front is needed when the clay particles do not break up easily. Another tool is the float board. These are sometimes handmade from wood or steel and are designed to level your infield.
- It’s not a race so take your time especially as your turn. Always keep the drag about a foot away from the grass and always pull the bases when you drag. Trying to dodge second base might be fun but you are changing the grade of the your field and causing lips when you hit the turf with the drag.
- If the drag doesn’t fit down the baseline?don?t pull it down the baseline! You need to rake these areas and use a smoothing board or purchase a drag that fits.
- Initially do a small circle pattern across the entire field then make a center line drag from end to end.
- Alternate patterns and dragging direction on a daily basis from Clockwise to counter clock wise.
- Select the finish drag that provides the smoothest surface.
- Coco mats are common for final dragging because they basically brush the clay and do not move material like the big drags.
- Some flex mats have a leveling bar on the front that helps to remove small bumps from the workouts.
- Before dragging make sure you have proper moisture and have used a ?nail type? drag to remove the deep ruts.
- Give the field a little water after the drag to stabilize the surface.
- At some of the allstar games you have seen designs in the clay areas. This material is calcined clay and is a lighter color than the rest of the infield. It may appear to be a ridge but it is a soil conditioner used regularly for infield maintenance.
- Monitor the moisture in the infield clay throughout the day. If its to dry add water but do so after you complete you’re dragging routine in the morning.
- After the games ask the players how it played and tweak your plan as necessary.
- Have fun!
Dragging the field is part of the art of infield maintenance so pay attention to te soil as you drag it to determine if you’re using the right drag.
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