How to tackle a complete infield dirt renovation

Infield skinned area renovations are some of the most overlooked, often-neglected areas on a baseball or softball field. Coaches, parents and maintenance staffs are more concerned about the grass, or the press box, or where we will sit for the game to get the best views of our children. With it being overlooked, when it does come time to renovate the infield-skinned area, the price tag to renovate is much more than had it been properly maintained over the years.

Determine the problem

Before you can tackle this renovation, you first need to determine the problem or the issue at hand. Does the field not drain properly? Birdbaths located throughout the infield? Is it loose and not providing a firm solid footing for players? Does the infield appear to been in a cattle farm after a game or chicken scratching? Once you determine the problem, then you can begin to renovate the skinned infield.

Contract or DIY?

With the job at hand of renovating the infield skinned area, you can ask yourself do we contract it out or do we DIY (do it yourself)?

The advantages of a paying someone else to do the work, is that it should be done correctly (be sure to get and check references if contractor if he is well known or not), laser graded for proper water removal, edged, base anchors installed at proper distances and game ready once the contractor is finished.

If you DIY, most of the labor force are volunteers. As with volunteers, they may or may not have the time and/or expertise to accomplish the desired results.

What materials?

When selecting infield materials, it can be found regionally or nationally depending on your scope of work or your level of play. A few things to ask about the material to use are:

  • Is the product tested regularly by an approved testing facility? (Sand/Silt/Clay)
  • Is the material screened? If so, what size are the screens? Some companies might “screen” the material, but, if it is bigger than a ½-inch screen, then you might have debris found throughout the product.
  • What is the SCR (Silt to Clay Ratio) of the latest report?
  • What are the sand particle sizes? This will help determine if the infield mix will “chip” out or you will get good “cleat in, cleat out” fields.
  • How readily available is the product to be added to the field?

It is best to ask these questions, even if the company has been in business for years, to make sure that the money invested in material is money well spent. Be wary of just the local dirt pit that can provide material for free. If you are investing money into your infield, then free might not be the best option. You pay for what you get and if it is free, you might not a quality product.

The process

As with any renovation, there has to be a process. Recommended are the following steps necessary to establishing a complete renovation on the infield.

  1. Edge the entire skinned area, pulling up the base anchors and using strings to measure for the correct edge distance. If using the bases for measurements is not correct, that can lead to more work in the future to get your field edged properly.
  2. Remove any excessive loose material from the infield area. If you cannot deep till the material and “bury it” under the new infield mix, then it might be best to remove some of it so you get a good consistent surface.
  3. Water the existing surface before deep tilling. If this can be done at night before you do the renovation that will be ideal. The water can soak into the infield mix and allow for an easier tilling process the next day.
  4. Deep till 3-4 inches of the existing surface to remove any layering that could have occurred in past infield renovations. This will allow the existing material and new material to blend together creating a constant profile of the infield mix, “no layers.” This will help minimize the sheeting off of the new material once installed.
  5. Begin importing the new material onto the field. As you add a layer, it is important to till the two materials again, existing infield and new material to eliminate the layering affect that could occur. As you bring on new material, till the field, but don’t go as deep on the tilling process. The last thing you want to do is purchase quality material, only to bury it so deep you cannot find it.
  6. Laser grade the infield (if possible) to create positive drainage off the infield skinned area. If a field cannot be laser graded due to the grade of the field, do the best you can to remove water to the grassed areas so that the infield-skinned portion can dry quicker after a rain. After laser grading, nail and float the infield to create the smooth, pool table surface you desire. Roll with a smooth double drum roller once completed.
  7. Install base anchors, add field conditioner or topdressing, nail and float smooth again and roll again if needed.

Game ready

As with any renovation, there is always something to do once it is completed to getting your field the way you want it and need it for your players. Continue to add conditioner, nail drag, float smooth, mat drag in different directions, broom the edges, don’t drag closer than 1-3 feet of the edge, pull your bases before dragging, manage your moisture level for good cleat in and cleat out fields, etc. There is always something to do to your skinned infield area to make it playable and the best it can be.

If you ever stop learning, then it might be time to look for something else to start. Strive to make your infields safe and playable for your team and players and always, if you have a question, be sure to ask.

This article was written by Bill Marbet and Glenn Lucas of Southern Athletic Fields, Inc.,