Having great baseball and softball fields takes a lot of work. Make sure these 10 items are in your maintenance regimen.
1. Do not add infield mix to infield skinned area until any lip problems are properly dealt with
Over time many infields can appear to be "low" and the common initial assumption is that the infield skinned area needs more red dirt (infield mix) added to it to bring it up to match the rest of the infield. In most cases, however, what's actually going on is the infield edges have developed lips as the existing infield mix has migrated into the infield grass over time. Adding more infield mix in these situations only makes the problem worse by "perching" the infield higher and higher each time material is added.
Rather than simply adding more material, some quick analysis should be done to determine if an infield has developed lips and figure out how substantial the problem has become. In many cases, a simple service can be performed like a TMC Power Rake that will "grind" any infield lips down by removing the infield mix buildup from the grass edges. The infield grass edges will be a bit torn up after this service is performed but it will grow back in over a short period of time. Because of this, infield lip maintenance like this is usually reserved for the off season during warmer summer months so the grass repair happens as quickly as possible. For more severe lip problems where the lips have developed much farther into the infield grass areas, a minor infield renovation may be required by cutting out and removing the grass edges and re-establishing the proper grades around the infield with new turfgrass may be required. Once the proper slopes are identified and lip problems are properly dealt with, it's possible that an infield could really use another load or two of infield mix and can be added at that point.
2. Chronic circular dragging with a steel drag mat will destroy infield grades
Regular mat dragging is a necessity to keep a great infield smooth and ready for play. Dragging in the same direction day in and day out will ruin your infield grades by unevenly moving infield material to different areas. Eventually, any uniform grades will devolve into a series of high and low spots creating an environment for bad hops leading to player injury as well as areas for water to settle in after a rain event (or just normal infield watering) and causing practices and games to be postponed. Change dragging direction regularly and SLOW DOWN on turns, taking extra special care to stay away from grass edges to keep infield material from migrating and beginning any lip buildup. Click here for more on infield dragging.
3. Broom and wash infield grass edges frequently
Some infield material will always find its way onto infield grass edges in spite of proper dragging patterns and practices. Players tend to track infield material into the grass as well during normal field usage. To keep this from becoming a problem, regularly use a wide broom to sweep any material away from/off of the grass edge back into the infield skinned area. Using an infield irrigation hose to wash any infield mix back onto the skinned area on occasion will also help keep grass edges clean and prevent any lip build up.
4. Work mound landing area and batters boxes at least twice per week
Regular workouts in batters boxes along with game and bull pen pitchers mounds will require wear patterns and large divots to be repaired. Keep some bags of mound clay, an infield rake and a watering can on hand to touch up and repair these areas as needed during regular field use. Do not allow these areas to develop large ruts to the point of affecting player development and performance.
5. Daily watering of infield skinned area is THE MAGIC POTION for a consistently great surface
There's a reason why high profile baseball and softball fields put thousands of gallons of water almost every day on their infield skinned areas. It's a requirement to keeping the moisture content in an infield soil profile at a consistent level. Most facilities (especially high schools) probably don't have the ability to put that much effort into their infields but the lesson is clear: put regular water on an infield to keep some level of consistent moisture in the soil profile. An ideal situation is for infields to have irrigation specifically for the infield skinned area on a manual ball valve. Maintenance personnel can be performing other tasks on or near the baseball or softball field during a regular day and can use this irrigation capability to easily keep the infield material watered. Hand watering with an infield hose can then be used on the occasions where a small amount of water is needed to hit areas of an infield that might need some extra attention and/or in preparation for a game.
6. Tarp mound and home plate circle for consistent moisture levels to prevent surface erosion from irrigation and/or rain
Excess moisture from rain events or an irrigation system can negatively affect the performance of pitchers mounds and batters boxes so keep them covered with a tarp when not in use.
7. Mow field every other day
A quality mowing regimen with a well calibrated reel mower (or a high quality rotary) will help create a great stand of turfgrass that is resilient and weed tolerant. Most ball fields in the southern states play their seasons on ryegrass. A quality sports field ryegrass like TMC Super Sport is a perennial ryegrass that has a more maintenance friendly growing pace and does not clump like other ryegrass varieties allowing for a quality mowing regimen to yield excellent results on baseball and softball fields. During the warm season months, mowing the base stand of bermudagrass (common or hybrid) regularly at a short height will yield a superior turfgrass and will created an environment for better overall ryegrass performance as well. Click here for more from TMC on mowing sports fields.
8. Kill ryegrass in June (if it’s still hanging on)
A stand of ryegrass on a baseball or softball field is usually only as good as the base stand of bermudagrass. Don't let bermudagrass compete with ryegrass for sunlight and nutrients in the soil. If there's any ryegrass still hanging on when the bermudagrass is trying to establish itself in the early growing season, spray out the ryegrass with a timely herbicide spray application to help maximize the quality of the base stand of bermudagrass.
9. Aerify field at least 2-3 times per year. Make sure one aeration is a month before overseeding
It is the job of the sports turf manager to perform cultural practices that relieve the compaction that field use and frequent mowing causes. Aeration is the primary cultural practice for reversing this compaction and improves the oxygen content to help turfgrass to thrive. Make sure one aeration of a baseball or softball field takes place one month before overseeding with ryegrass. Click here for more on TMC Aeration. This will help create more fertile ground for seed germination in the weeks to come. Make sure aeration takes place one month before overseeding so any holes formed in the ground from the aerating has time to close up so the ryegrass seed doesn't fall into and collect in these areas or else the ryegrass stand will appear to have a weird pattern of "polka dots".
10. Verticut and vacuum turfgrass areas right before overseeding
The best way to prepare a baseball field or softball field for ryegrass overseeding is to perform a TMC Super Rake service. This process verticuts and vacuums in a single pass and can dramatically improve the rate of successful seed germination and can slightly reduce a fields' overall amount of seed needed for a season. A Vertical mowing motion uses small blades to improve the grass growing environment within the thatch and top layer of soil by allowing more oxygen and water to get to the turfgrass root system. The vacuum removes organic or any other undesirable material from the field surface and can be easily discarded nearby.