A good solution to a serious problem

We have recently switched to synthetic turf here at the University of Michigan baseball and softball facilities.

With the new surface there are some new problems that, as a natural grass groundskeeper, I was not used to. Keeping the turf fluffed, keeping infill around first base after lead offs by players and holes in batter’s and catcher’s boxes. We now rent out the fields more than ever and have switched from letting players use metal spikes to only turf or sneakers to help with the hole and infill displacement.

But the hardest area to take care of is the pitcher’s mound. Along with the switch in surfaces, we have cut our staff in half to try to keep labor costs down; but having 155 games in 20 days, for example, resulted in some unforeseen problems. With no time in between games to get everything done there was not time to sweep clay out of the synthetic turf. Big clay chunks were picked up and the mound was patched. But with weather and game schedules, it was not like the baseball season, when we had time to remove the clay build-up after the games.

During the summer tournaments, the lip build-up was so great that something had to be done. The turf discolor was hurting in recruiting and was becoming unsafe to play on. With added pressure from the coaching staff, we tried several things to get the Hilltopper clay out.

I had my staff try brooming it back in with a very stiff broom. Next we tried chipping it away with an iron rake. Neither of these worked well. We started power washing it, which worked well enough to get some of the clay out but not all of it. Using a 15 degree tip helped to get the clay out but it made a great mess of the mound. This forced us to rebuild the top 1 or 2 inches of the pitcher’s mound. This was not cost efficient with the labor cost and price of clay.

In the past we had an Astroturf halo behind the dish that would get clay in it and we would have a carpet cleaning company clean it out and it always looked brand new. After speaking with my supervisor he suggested having them give it a try. They came out and did a test area and the results were amazing.

With this there are some problems though. With their removing the clay it also took up some infill. Having to replace infill is easier than rebuilding the mound. With sand and crumb rubber on site one staff member can fill in one day. It’s important to have a good relationship with carpet cleaning company that will come out when needed.

Last fall, with football games regularly drawing student-athletes being recruited, the area had to look good every day; now there is an easier way of getting it done that’s cost effective and time efficient.

Jason Demink, CSFM, is a sports turf manager for the University of Michigan.