Maintaining a high quality baseball infield surface requires paying constant attention to several important factors. The best infields receive this sort of dedicated attention to detail on a daily basis.
Head Groundskeeper Eric Ferland and Field Superintendent Karsten Blackwelder are two professionals that ensure their high profile baseball fields receive the necessary dedication and care.
Eric and Karsten agreed to take part in this Q&A on maintaining professional, premium baseball infields. In this two part Q&A, we want to help educate and inform anyone responsible for maintaining baseball infields by sharing some of the experience and knowledge these professionals have garnered through years of learning and service.
In Part 2 of our Professional Baseball Infield Q&A, Karsten Blackwelder, Field Superintendent of the San Antonio Missions, shares his insight in maintaining the infield at Wolff Stadium.
Professional Baseball Infield Maintenance Q&A
- Part 1 - Eric Ferland - Head Groundskeeper - Midland RockHounds
- Part 2 - Karsten Blackwelder - Field Superintendent - San Antonio Missions
Q1 - What is your in-season field maintenance regimen, specifically for infield and skinned area? E.g. important factors to be mindful of, watering, mowing, game day regimen, anything special about field maint. like when team is on road trips, etc.
Q2 - What things do you do to maintain your skinned area edges to keep them in great playing condition? Lip buildup prevention, any other key factors.
"In-season field maintenance for the infield skin all starts before the actual season begins. I like to have the infield skin area laser graded about a month before games start. I do this mainly because the tarp will not be pulled in the off-season so preventing the spread of any material due to rain and wind is vital to maintain uniformity. But, before the laser grading occurs, one should edge all the grass for the tilling so the addition of clay can be as precise as possible. The goal in mind is to fill in any potential low spots (mainly at the bases and position areas) and to have the clay as flush as possible with the grass edges. Once laser grading is completed, heavy watering and additional rolling is vital for the clay to bond and to prevent any 'plating' that can occur. I don't broom up the conditioner that was on the field before tilling, so I just drag the infield before the work is done. I like to have it all thoroughly blended for better drainage and moisture control."
"After many watering's and rolling of the skin, picking up any debris, mainly pebbles or rocks and examining for proper bonding is key for playability. After about a week of watering and rolling, I will put a nail drag on the skin and go a couple of different directions with it. Once I do this, I then follow by letting it dry a little and then use a screen drag to spread any material that may be high or fill in any potential low spots. Then I will roll it again and water heavily. With not having a whole lot of heat this time of year, it may take a couple days for the sun to "bake" it, or dry it out. So watering and drying must occur for settling purposes."
"The idea I preach and practice is to keep the grass in the grass, and the clay in the clay. After any game or practice, brooming the edges of the grass all around the infield, mound, base lines, and home plate is good practice to keep to prevent any lips from growing. On the average, we edge the grass about every 12 days throughout the playing season. Edging occurs a day or two before a home stand and keeping your measurements in mind is good so one doesn't edge too much or too little. For example, one doesn't want the back arc of the infield growing from 95' to 97' by the end of the season due to not measuring."
"Everyone who lives here in south Texas knows how hot it gets in the summer. So with the heat and wind in the peak of summer, watering and moisture control is the biggest challenge. A few days before the team comes back home, watering the field for many hours over several days is common practice for us. This ensures there is adequate moisture at the base of the clay - down about five inches deep. The addition of a good layer of calcined clay is necessary for better moisture control as well."
"The night following the game, a light nail drag is used to open up the surface. A heavy water is then followed to almost saturate the base of the clay, keeping in mind the next water the infield will get won't be until around noon the following day. The next morning, when the sun has dried the clay enough, or as I like to say "crusted' the clay, I will put a light tow behind roller on the skin to lock in the moisture for a few hours. This then allows us to mow and drive on the clay without disturbing the surface."
"After mowing, any clippings or sunflower seeds are raked up along the edges. This goes back to keeping the grass in the grass and the clay in the clay. A screen drag is then used and going a couple different directions is common. After that is completed, the skin only needs a few light watering's before batting practice starts. The longest time the skin goes without water, starting once rolling is done in the morning, is about 3 hours, which is when batting practice occurs. There may be days where on occasion I will water between some down time of batting practice, but usually I only do that when the wind is really blowing."
"When BP is over and all the equipment has been hauled off the field, dragging the skin with a screen drag is performed followed by a moderate watering. And when we drag, after it is completed, raking up any piles of debris is necessary for uniformity. Going back to what I stated earlier, following the game, sweeping all the edges and a nail drag are done on the skin followed by a heavy watering. Picking up any clumps of clay anywhere on the grass is also done. Gum and sunflower seeds are always a big thing to look for as well. Some players will literally have a piles near their position spot by the end of the game. This just goes back to debris that needs to be picked up, or it'll end up on your shoe! For me, it's just something I have to live with and saying anything really isn't going to change their habit."
"When the team is on the road, we will leave the clay alone for a few days depending on how long they're gone for. Using the water hose and using a backpack blower along the edges where the grass and clay meet is necessary, because the broom is not going to get everything. It will all start back up about three days before the team returns home with the edging, watering, etc."
Infield Topdressing at SA Missions Wolff Stadium"For as much as I water the infield clay, some people may have to water their skin more, some less. The practices I use here work with the clay we have and would have to be tweaked if they were used anywhere else. The biggest thing people need to experiment with is knowing how much water their clay can hold. Knowing the water threshold for the clay is vital to performance and it will make the difference between being rained out or playing."
Karsten Blackwelder was Field Superintendent for the San Antonio Missions until early 2013
Thanks Karsten for sharing your knowledge and experience in maintaining your professional baseball infield!
Do you have questions about maintaining your baseball infield or would like to discuss an infield renovation? Maybe it's another issue you are facing with your sports fields? TMC would love to help...Call us at 1-800-292-1214.