On A Smaller Scale

Hitting a homerun in baseball and maintaining a softball field takes more than an occasional swipe of the ball and dusting off the bases after a game. In these tough economic times, field maintenance can help stretch your dollar and keep fields safe.

“Maintain your fields throughout the year. Dragging and watering pay off,” says Jeff Nereson, Recreation Supervisor of the city of Roseville, Calif. “It costs [more] if you don’t maintain throughout the year.”

Dragging And Leveling|

Dragging and leveling are two basic functions in field maintenance. The frequency depends on the climate and amount of use. In Boise, Idaho, the crew mows the field one to two times weekly, and drags and levels daily. During tournament play, fields are dragged and lined after every third game to keep them fresh and functional.

Roseville’s recreation department uses a John Deere tractor for dragging and grating. “It’s a catch-all for maintaining the fields,” says Nereson. The tractor has several attachments, including a rake and nail drag.

In Raleigh, N.C., fields are dragged and lined daily due to constant, heavy use between summer and fall leagues.

In order to keep the fields in prime condition, take precautions when dragging, such as alternating between dragging clockwise and counterclockwise. “Turf and field maintenance is a science,” says Jane Bailey, Athletic Director of Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department.

The fields are also available for residents playing pickup games. “If someone wanted to walk up and play, they could,” Bailey says. But when programs aren’t in session, the fields are dragged twice a week to prevent major problems and keep costs of repairs down.

Turface In The Mix

Another factor in keeping fields in optimum playing condition is to make sure moisture is on an even keel--too much can cause destruction, but not enough creates lumps and holes, and can lead to player injuries.

Turface--a porous, ceramic soil conditioner--is used in field mix to maintain moisture and prevent compaction. Its ability to absorb its own weight in rainwater leads to fewer rainouts and cancelled games. When there is more air in the soil, Turface combats compaction because it helps with water drainage and assists in backfilling aeration holes.

In Boise, Turface is added on top of the field mix throughout the year as needed. The mix is used up to half an inch below the grass in the outfield. It helps develop a crown to prevent overflowing when it rains. The fields are dragged to keep them soft throughout the year.

“The fields need air to breathe. [Turface] helps suck up the water. When the fields are hard, they don’t absorb the moisture,” says Earl Kilian, Sports and Athletic Director of the Boise Parks and Recreation Department.

In Raleigh a Turface mixture is used with natural soil on the fields. Roseville uses about 2,000 pounds of Turface in its mix annually.

In addition to using Turface, sprinklers are installed in dryer areas to ensure the fields will be kept moist.

Taking A Break

It’s important to give high-traffic fields a rest in order to keep them in the best condition. In late July and early August, the folks in Boise take a weeklong break from using the fields. During this time, they do routine maintenance, including watering, checking and or repairing sprinkler heads, and repairing any holes in the infield.

Safety Prevention

Safety is the key in preventing player injuries.

Roseville’s Park Division has a quality-assurance department dedicated to examining safety issues once a week. The staff checks the fields, perimeters, fences, bleachers, light coverage and backstops. Any issues are immediately repaired.

The city of Boise has incorporated a special setup in the batter’s box to prevent large holes--staff has installed a barrier about 6 to 8 inches deep made of clay brick and then covered with sand, dirt and Turface. The barrier is harder for batters digging into the box to break down. Steel cleats have also been banned because of damage to fields.

Maintenance In The Off-Season

While many departments use the off-season to inspect fields and make repairs to fences, bleachers and lights, routine dragging and leveling are still done during this time to keep fields soft and playable.

“If you don’t use the fields, they become hard. Hard fields are unsafe,” Kilian says. Even in the off-season the fields are maintained on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

“We take pride in the safety of our fields,” Kilian says. “With over 500 teams coming through between summer and fall, it’s important to keep maintenance and safety up.”

In Raleigh, the staff does field assessments in December. Some things they consider include low places in the infield, patches of bare grass and fencing issues. Light tests are done along with fence patching. The whole assessment process takes about a month. In mid-January, repairs begin so that the fields are in playing condition.

Equipment Maintenance

The city of Raleigh provides youth softball and baseball leagues with basic equipment, such as batting helmets and bats. The catcher’s gear includes helmets, face masks, throat masks, chest protectors and shin guards. Maintenance of the equipment helps keep the children safe and also reduces costs for taxpayers. The city has a warehouse manager in charge of maintaining inventory of all equipment and examining each piece to make sure it is in playing condition.

Coaches return the team equipment each year, and it is checked in the fall to be ready for the next season. Helmets are checked for ear pads and cracks. Bats are examined for dents and rivets. Balls are replaced every year, and old game balls are used the following year for practice balls.

“The life of a baseball or softball isn’t very long,” Bailey says. “Whether it’s from weather or usage, they tend not to last long.”

Bailey stresses the importance of buying for longevity, not flash. “We are very conscious of safety along with taxpayer money,” she says. The department only purchases enough equipment to cover those needing replaced and a small amount to cover any increase in participation from the previous year.

Hire Knowledgeable Staff

“It’s important to hire people with knowledge of baseball and softball. They will treat the fields like a player would want them. We want our staff to ask, ‘Would you want to play on them?’” says Kilian.

Keep Up On Turf Maintenance

New methods of turf maintenance are always in development. What is the best tip on maintaining fields? “Continue to keep reading about fields, and keep up on turf maintenance,” Bailey advises. “When you play over 600 hours on the fields a year, you need to know the best ways to keep them in top condition.”

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.com