Little League International requested that two infields be skinned for the tournament, held in mid-August. Since most of the league play during the season involves both baseball and softball, the infields are normally grass.
Transitioning infield skin from turf to dirt and back
From the time the Little League Softball World Series Major Division moved from Kalamazoo, MI to Portland, OR in 1992 the tournament has been played on conventional 60-foot bases with a grass infield. This wouldn’t typically be the norm for competitive fast pitch softball where one bad hop or errant throw could mean the outcome of the game.
With Little League International getting more involved with the Portland venue it was requested that the Main and East infields be skinned for the week-long tournament held in mid-August. Since most of the league play during the season for District 4 involves both boys baseball and girls softball the infields are left as grass, the mound circle is measured at 40-feet with an 8-foot radius, and the baseball pitching rubber is at the back at 46 feet. Twice the infield of the Main Stadium Field was stripped, regraded and big roll sodded with play 7 days later.
There are typically 10-14 days before the World Series starts after the last District Tournament for the host team to qualify. Then the preparation begins for the fields for live television coverage by ESPN 2 for the semifinals and finals. Aeration, slice seeding, topdressing and fertilizing starts the day following the last tournament game, which can pose challenges to achieve great results before the tournament starts. However the field gets better every day and, interestingly, looks its best about 2 weeks after everything is over. The decision to go with a skin infield not only frees up some renovation time, but gets the field ready for traditional softball play.
On the first available day the sprinkler heads are marked and the two in front of the shortstop and second base positions are measured and capped. Then the infield grass is sod-cut at about 1 inch and quickly removed by a rubber track ASV skid steer and discarded. The existing soil is lightly tilled with a tow-behind Aerovater, breaking up the hard compacted soil and getting the dirt at a consistent mixture. Then 25 yards of Astoria Sandstone is added to bring the infield level up since almost 1 inch of 3,000 square feet of sod was removed. Then laser grading begins with a slight fall to 2nd and a ½% cone from the mound. Finally, two tons of Turface MVP are added, nail dragged in, and leveled.
This year’s tournament featured a new look for the infield skin portion. By measuring every 4 feet down each baseline and the opposite grass edge area of a conventional 60-foot base infield, a string was strung out and, with the use of a Scotts drop spreader, Turface’s new infield conditioner (Pro League Heritage Red) was spread in straight lines. Pulling the drop spreaders backwards allows for the product to come out faster and uniform. With practice, the application was done faster and more precisely.
Softball needs to have a white line to indicate the 8-foot radius where the pitcher can receive the ball. After the pitch the runners have to immediately return or advance to the next base. Inside the circle was completely filled in with a couple of passes of the drop spreader. The patterns were laid out so that they had a continuous appearance all the way around. The tartan pattern was originally done for the opening ceremonies and only after the acceptance from the tournament director, Bob Hudlow, and ESPN 2 was it decided to repeat the pattern for the championship game. The Championship game went on without a hitch and the patterns easily made it through the 6-inning contest.
After the tournament is over the sprinkler heads are located. Then the infield is quickly regraded for a grass infield. Seeding was done in both directions with a Lesco slice seeder. The fixed spinning blades of the slicer act as a power planer and shave any high dirt and gradually smoothes the loose dirt over the seed. Since the seeding or sodding of grass will raise the height of the infield, the grading of the grass portion of the infield is lowered ¾ of an inch to prevent starting with a lip.
Grass lines are established by running a gas edger backwards to create a clean groove in the dirt. Using a landscape rake the inside of the groove is shaved down, allowing the grass to grow even with the infield dirt. This year the baselines were seeded as well to try to limit the maintenance for the unpredictable fall Oregon rain. With tarps for both the mound and homeplate available and the infield graded with a slight slope to the back edge of the infield, rains can effectively be managed.
A starter fertilizer is applied with a broadcast spreader in both directions to give uniform coverage. A light raking can help spread out heavy or light seeded areas. Then grass straw mulch is applied at 100 lbs per 1000 square feet with a screen roller, much like a peat moss spreader. A light watering before the straw mulch is applied will help with the mulch to stick to the soil and not be so dusty. The grass straw mulch helps to hold moisture in as well as give the newly seeded infield a tint of green.
After a couple of weeks the sun bleaches out the color and the newly planted grass seed starts to emerge from the soil. Since a higher percentage of grass seed falls into the cut grass line edges they are more pronounced. If the ground is firm enough a quick light mowing with a push reel mower cuts the first shoot of grass blades allowing it to tiller more quickly and fill in. After a month another application of fertilizer will boost the top growth of the grass. With frequent watering and mowing the infield is ready in 4-6 weeks for the fall Little League baseball program.
Mike Hebrard is the owner of Athletic Field Design, Clackamas, OR, www.athleticfield.com.
How to put mowing patterns on infield skins
I always thought that a skinned softball infield was a little drab looking when it can to watching it on TV. After highlighting the mound circle and batter’s box with Pro League Red or Heritage Red, the thought came to me—what about drop spreading the product in a square overlapping pattern much like mowing grass?
First I tried using Emerald Field and Fairway, a green colored topdressing calcined clay that has the same particle size as sand. After a couple of test areas it was deemed to be too light of a contrast to make an impression (is this still red or green?). I originally did this for the opening ceremony and mentioned to the Tournament Director Bob Hudlow that I would like to do this for the Championship game on ESPN 2. He took a picture and sent it to the ESPN crew and they replied they wanted to know what it looked like after the 4th inning. After a couple of games ESPN 2 had no problem with it so the Green Light to do it was on!
I decided to use Turface’s Heritage Red which is actually has more of a brownish tone to it. For a pattern style I chose the conventional checkerboard for the ease, quickness and contrast. I started by inserting a tape measure at the apex of 2nd base and home plate and by laying them out in the same direction. If you are using a 2-foot wide spreader, scribe a mark every 4 feet in the dirt. You will go on opposite side of the string with each pass. In order to come out evenly with your spacing, use a string down each chalk line and 2 inches in from the outside of the base to complete the square; that way you will know when to stop.
Use a sharp spike or screwdriver with premeasured strings, (I like to have two that way you always have one line ready to go while the next one is being moved) angle them back a bit and even use a hammer and pound them in, that way the string doesn’t come out at an inopportune time. Set the spreader wide open and go backward, running the wheel near the string line and stopping (at the premarked edge. You can fill in the mound circle with the same color or another contrasting one for more visual effect.
The mound needs to have a white circle around it to indicate when the ball is back in the pitcher’s possession. Do a pass around the circle on your last straight line near the mound. Repeat the process going in the opposite direction. Little League softball for the 11-13-year old girls is 6 innings and the patterns easily last the entire game. I had one of my assistants comment that he didn’t care for the different surfaces; I quickly responded “Oh, like grass and dirt?!”-Mike Hebrard
1. Insert tapes at the apex of homeplate and 2nd base
2. If using a 2-foot wide drop spreader scribe mark every 4’ in the dirt
3. Use the drop spreader backwards and complete the square
a. You might have to make a couple of attempts to come out even
4. Continue the process stopping at the end and going the opposite direction
5. Do a finish pass around the mound circle
6. You can either fill in the mound with the same color or use a contrasting one.
a. Softball requires an 8-foot white circle be marked around the pitchers rubber so even with same color you will still have a break in the pattern.
7. We usually used three bags of Heritage Red per application
8. We had the best results wetting the infield in advance and letting it air dry and after infield warm-ups just wetting the unmarked portion of the infield to get the best results.
9. We added a little spice to the process and actually had four of the same Scotts spreaders and did a quick remark just before the game