No areas on the baseball diamond receive more wear and tear than the pitcher’s mound and batter’s boxes.
“In order to keep a field safe and playable, from the first pitch to the final out, it is crucial that high-traffic areas are properly constructed and maintained,” says Jeff Langner, Turface Athletics brand manager. “The best way to do that is by starting with the right base material in the batter’s boxes and pitcher’s mound.”
Start with a good foundation
Whether work is being completed before the season begins; ahead of a long tournament; or after the last game has been played for the year, building a good foundation at the mound and plate will significantly cut down on the amount of repair that is needed to maintain a safe, playable field over an entire season.
Specialty products such as bagged mound clay or mound blocks can serve as the base material for this foundation, ultimately extending the life of the batter’s boxes and pitcher’s mounds.
When a field is built correctly, light repairs are much easier to make and can take as little as 10 minutes with the right material and tools on hand. That solid foundation will also help stave off a full box or mound renovation, too, which can require a significant time investment on the part of the field manager when the field has little time to spare.
Repair to keep diamond shining
“Repair of any kind begins with discovery,” Langner says. “It’s important for a field manager to walk his or her fields daily to look for signs of wear. This routine will not only help spot areas of needed improvement, but it is also an important step to preventing an all-out replacement of any area of the field.”
Low spots, cleat marks, and holes are common issues that can easily be repaired with a few minutes of work. These trouble spots are most likely to appear in the landing area on the pitcher’s mound, the front of the pitching rubber, and the right-handed batter’s box.
To repair holes on the mound or around the plate, first remove loose material down to the layer of clay. Wet the area and then lightly scarify the surface. Then, fill the hole with mound clay and tamp to pack in the filled hole. It’s important to tamp with a tool smaller than the hole. Finally, add more clay and use the tamper to level the surface before covering with infield mix.
If the area in front of the rubber becomes worn, a single package of eight MoundMaster blocks, placed on their side, can help fortify the mound. Just dig out the old clay material, place the blocks (faced on their sides), water, and tamp until the Blocks become a single sheet of clay. Finally, topdress the mound with a thin layer of infield conditioner.
“If a field manager has a strong foundation in place and is vigilant in making small repairs on a consistent basis, that clay base can last for several years,” Langner says.
Replace the right way
Unfortunately, heavy use or neglect can render mound and plate areas unplayable without significant repair. These unfortunate situations, however, can be used as an opportunity to renovate a worn area, resulting in a safer, more playable diamond.
“Oftentimes a field may not have the means to execute a full-sized mound or batter’s box replacement and that’s okay,” Langner says. “It’s important for a field manager to let the areas of wear and types of play dictate which areas need to be replaced. For example, a Little League baseball field is going to see areas of wear near the back of the batter’s box compared to a girls’ softball field, which typically only sees heavy wear at the front of the box.”
To replace the pitcher’s mound, 164 blocks will be needed for a full-size mound (53 blocks for the mound plateau and 111 for the landing area) while 137 blocks will be needed for a reduced-size mound (46 blocks for the mound plateau and 91 blocks for the landing area).
To begin, outline your landing areas and plateau using a mound gauge to obtain the desired slope. Excavate 3 inches below the surface, level and tamp firm. Next, excavate the landing area; remember to be 10 inches wider and longer than the longest stride of pitchers using the field. Blocks should be within 1/2-inch of the surface. Wedge the blocks into position 1/2-inch below the rubber. Fill around the blocks with adjacent soil and tamp to wedge together.
Tamp and water thoroughly several times so the water absorbs into the clay, swelling the blocks. Tamp firmly between waterings. Apply a thin layer of mound clay to bring the area back to grade (match color to blocks), moisten and tamp. Then, rake the clay and infield mix over the surface and hand drag. Topping with a calcined clay conditioner will help provide effective moisture control and ensure that pitchers have safe footing.
It’s also important to always cover the mound with a plastic tarp to hold moisture and prevent a dry, cracked and unsafe mound.
Replacing the batter’s box requires a similar effort and series of steps as the pitcher’s mound. To replace the boxes, 291 blocks will be needed for a full-size batter’s box (216 blocks for the batter’s box and 75 for the catcher’s box), while 162 blocks will be needed for a reduced-size batter’s box (126 blocks for the batter’s box and 36 for the catcher’s box).
Start by digging out a 3-inch deep rectangular area next to home plate. Tamp the surface and level out any clumps. A smooth surface will help ensure the clay blocks bond with the soil. Blocks should be pressed together against each other to minimize gaps.
In order to seal the blocks together, add a healthy amount of water to the top of the surface and tamp the blocks repeatedly to help them bond together. Once a clean sheet of clay is produced in the batter’s box, add a layer of bagged mound clay to bring the area up to grade, tamp the clay to pack it, and utilize a level to ensure that the area is flat. Add a thin layer of infield mix, and top with a calcined clay conditioner to ensure effective moisture management and sure footing.
Let the batter’s box sit overnight underneath a tarp before allowing play.
“These full mound and box replacements may be more time intensive, but if executed correctly, they will give field managers a diamond to be proud of for seasons to come,” Langner says.
Jeff Salem is a public relations counsel at Swanson Russell, based in Lincoln, NE.