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Field Guide

Simple Steps for Preseason Baseball Field Grass Maintenance

February 26, 2014

Union players laying weighted spot cover on pitchers mound

Baseball players are gearing up for another great season of playing the Great American Pastime. They are taking swings in batting cages and limbering up their pitching arms for the 9 innings of strenuous play that will test their skills to see if they deserve to be champions. With the season looming closer, baseball field maintenance is required so all players can enjoy safe games on a field that is appealing to the spectators.

Baseball Field Grass Maintenance Steps

If you are on a regular maintenance schedule, then your seasonal baseball field grass maintenance starts way before the first snowflakes arrive in the winter. Having a fall field schedule ensures that the grass is prepped and ready when you begin the spring maintenance. Include these following steps into your preseason maintenance techniques to ensure you have a lush field of grass in the spring.

Step 1: Clear the Field of Debris

Whether you’re managing a local park used by Little League teams or you’re in charge of Yankee Stadium, it’s important to begin the field-maintenance process by clearing the area of potentially dangerous debris. All rocks and stones should be carefully removed from the field. They could cause injury to running or sliding players in the infield, and they can damage mowers working in the outfield.

Step 2: Fall Seeding and Fertilizing the Baseball Field Surface Material

Besides regular mowing, you will want to seed bare spots caused by game play and fertilize the baseball field while the grass is at its healthiest. If you had performed a soil test in the spring, you should perform another in the fall.

The environment can change the condition of the grass during the intervening months of baseball play, and what was good for the field in the spring may not be enough in the fall. Based on the soil testing, which you can do yourself by purchasing a test kit from your local home improvement store, you can determine the right fertilizer mixture to balance the pH levels and nutrients in the grass to develop healthy roots.

Step 3: Mound and Batting Box Repair

With the high number of baseball games played, the batter box and pitcher's mound will need to be fortified by adding brick or clay underneath the soil areas for added strength. Players' shoes can displace the soil, creating dips and holes in the ground's surface.

Measure the height of the pitcher's mound to ensure it conforms to baseball regulations, then check to see what type of soil or clay the mound is made out of so you can use the right materials. Most baseball mounds will be a 50% clay mixture. Other mounds will strictly be soil. You need to sweep the soil from the holes, water the holes lightly so the soil or clay becomes sticky, and then put in the replacement materials so it forms a cohesive bond with the rest of the mound. Tamp down the materials, rake it and lightly water the entire mound to prevent the soil from drying out and cracking. You can follow these same steps to repair the batter's box.

Step 4: Lip removal

Lip removal allows you to get rid of that annoying bump between the baseball infield soil and the outfield turf that can cause baseballs to bounce awkwardly and hit players in the face during the season. The best time to do this repair is in the fall when roots are strong and the grass is at its healthiest. For small lips, knock the soil down with a high-pressure water nozzle. For larger lips, cut out the sod, flip it over and knock the excess soil off. Till the area and place the sod back down. Take special care to ensure the sod grows back. If not, you will have to place down new sod.

Step 5: Baseball Field Covers and Turf Blankets

You don't want to come back to the field in the spring and see all the postseason maintenance ruined by storms or the spontaneous pick-up game. Place a winter turf blanket to protect against ice, snow, and frost from causing negative effects to the field's grass. In addition, the tarp will protect the pitcher's mound and batting box from harsh storms that can displace the soil so you won't have to do major repair renovations in the spring.

Step 6: Spring De-Thatching

Once the winter storms and last frost pass, you can remove the turf blanket and inspect the field for any problems. You will more than likely see thatch on the field between the grass roots. While thatch can be beneficial for everyday lawns, you need to remove it on the baseball field to allow water, air and nutrients to reach the grass roots. In addition, thatch can cause players to trip when trying to catch the baseball. Remove thatch with a thatching rake and dispose of properly.

Step 7: Aeration of your Baseball Field

Aeration helps compacted soil draw in more water and air to promote healthy grass growth. It should normally be done at least two times a year. So the spring and the fall may be the best times depending on the condition of the field. Create core aeration in an X pattern on the field. You can leave the plugs out on the field to dry as you spread a mixture of sand, or sand and manure, across the field to fill in the holes you created and any holes made by the players' cleats. This method is referred to as "topdressing."

If you didn't over-seed the field in the fall, the best time to seed it is in the spring after the aeration maintenance. Place on the top dressing and then seed the field thoroughly. Fertilize and water the field to stimulate grass growth.

Step 8: Spike Dragging and Infield Rolling

Spike dragging helps to level the surface of the field as it knocks down bumps created by built-up soil and fills in ruts with the topdressing. It will also help mix the seed and fertilizer you place on top. Never place on extra weight on the spike drags as this can damage the grass roots. You should also go in random patterns to avoid creating ruts and bumps.

Once the spike dragging is completed, place a turf cover over the outfield so the grass seed gets a chance to grow properly without being disturbed. Now is the perfect time for infield rolling. Infield rolling will get rid of the ruts and bumps on the soil - or soil and clay mixture - so you have a smooth and even surface. You don't need a huge steam roller. A 1.5 ton roller will do the trick on most baseball fields.

Step 9: Maintain a Mowing Schedule

Mow the grass regularly while waiting for the baseball season to start. Most baseball and softball fields should be mowed once or twice each week during the spring and fall months and then only once during the drier summertime. This mowing schedule should maintain the 1/3 grass length rule — in which no more than 1/3 of the leaf tissue of the grass should be cut off in one mowing. This rule should be based on the decided length of the outfield grass, usually around 2 inches, which means the grass should be cut when it reaches 3 inches in length. Mowers should retain sharp blades to preserve the health of the grass through frequent treatments, and the grass should be mowed in a different direction each time to keep it strong and straight.

Step 10: Create an Irrigation System

Depending on the location of the baseball and softball field, irrigation may be necessary to maintain the best quality grass. In many prime baseball regions, such as the Midwest, grass will go dormant without supplemental irrigation systems. Dormant fields reduce playability and increase the possibility of injury to players and the turf itself. Fields should be watered only as needed in order to avoid overly soggy conditions that can lead to compacted soil, weeds and pest infestations. When irrigation is necessary, aim to add about 1 inch of extra water each week, applied in two separate sessions to avoid excess and run-off. Watering should be done in the morning when the weather is cooler and no closer than 24 hours before a baseball or softball game.

Bonus: Maintain a Healthy Field Year-round

The best way to avoid pest infestations on a baseball or softball field is to maintain a healthy field year-round. Weeds are the most common affliction on sports fields, but the ground should be treated only when weeds become a problem, rather than preventatively. When weeds strike, use a safe herbicide as necessary; herbicides cannot be used in conjunction with seeding practices.

Baseball Field Tools & Equipment Needed:

  • Frames to outline batter and catcher boxes
  • Chalker for batter’s box and baseline
  • Push broom to sweep soil off batter’s box or bases
  • Edge cutter to define transition between turf and soil areas
  • Line marker
  • Shovels
  • String liner
  • Wheel barrow
  • Drags
  • Watering tools, including hoses, sprinklers, watering cans and a backpack sprayer
  • Three different types of rakes (at least two of each type,) to be used for these purposes: One rake to smooth clay (only for use on dry areas.); One garden rake to use to mix soil and clay together; One plastic fan-shaped or all-purpose leaf rake used to rake clay away from grass edge.
  • Tampers, Rollers & Compactors – Tampers are used in the areas around home base and the pitcher’s mound to pack down the clay, making sure that the ground is completely flat and smooth. Rollers smooth soil throughout the infield area, maintaining a completely flat surface.
  • Dual-Purpose Growth Covers and Field Protectors

Necessary Materials for Baseball Field Grass Maintenance:

  • Granulated calcined clay
  • “Diamond Dust” or ground calcined clay used for drying wet baseballs.
  • Pre-emergent herbicides (to prevent weed growth on turf and clay areas.)
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizer
  • Line marking material
  • A well-stocked supply (of at least two tons per playing field,) of mounding clay
  • No less than a 25 ton stockpile of playing field soil for use as top-dressing or filler

Shop Baseball Products

The best baseball and softball fields are clean, safe and useful. With a little hard work and some planned maintenance, you can keep the games going all season long. Contact CoverSports for a quote today.

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