Field transition: baseball to soccer

This article was written by Kayli Hanley, formerly with Ewing Irrigation’s public relations team. She visited Joe Hill, director of operations for Greater Nevada Field, Reno, NV about the challenges and benefits of field sharing. Joe manages fields for both the Reno Aces baseball team and 1868 FC soccer team.

Up keeping a field used for one sport requires a lot of work with minimal room for error. Up keeping a field used for two sports requires a lot of work with no room for error.

Field sharing between soccer and baseball is a growing trend that many stadiums are embracing. The challenges are numerous, but if a field manager can master the process, the shared stadium space saves money and unites two unique fan bases under one roof.

In 2015, the Greater Nevada Field’s Director of Field Operations, Joe Hill, learned the field he managed, home of the Reno Aces minor league baseball team, would be welcoming the Reno 1868 FC soccer team in as little as 18 months.

He had a year and a half to figure out a game plan that would work for both teams.

Planning a field transition

As soon as the decision to field share became official, Hill started working on a plan. The soccer team was scheduled to officially start using the field in 2017. With that in mind, Hill set up two friendly matches during 2016 to get an idea of what the conversion process would need to look like.

“We used the two matches not only to understand how the conversion process would work at Greater Nevada Field, but also to see how feasible it was on our field and inside our building,” Hill said.

The two friendly games allowed Hill to assess things like sod direction, staff size, materials and ultimately how much time was needed for a full field conversion.

By the start of the 2017 season, Hill had a blueprint created for how the field transitions should run.

The baseball field was ground zero. To get ready for a soccer game, Hill’s crew starts by scratching the infield skin’s edges down to 1 inch.

Next, they lay sod over approximately 9,000 square feet of the infield skin. The sod takes up all of third base, shortstop and runs all the way up to second base.

Placing the sod takes close to 5 hours.

After that, detail is the name of the game. Making sure the edges are correct and mowing the grass to the game-day height requirement are essential.

Once that’s complete, the crew shifts their focus to painting the field lines.

While the time between games varies, typically they have 2 full days to make the conversion.

Sometimes, however, they’re only given one.

Their tactics and timing have to be precise and accurate. Identifying pain points before a season starts makes a big difference in what they can accomplish.

Prepping the turf for success

During the 2016 season, when Hill scheduled two friendly soccer games, he noticed the transition process was causing extra wear and tear on certain areas in the baseball field.

Solving this problem was a two-step process:

Step 1: Addressing high-traffic areas. First, Hill asked his team be intentional about moving their traffic areas around. Avoiding certain areas consecutively gave the field a chance to breathe and recover despite the frequent transitions. But adjusting traffic areas on its own wasn’t enough.

The full solution lay under the surface—all the way down to the roots.

Step 2: Addressing the root of the problem. Hill knew if he could get the turf to establish deeper roots, it would strengthen the plant and reduce the impact of field transitioning. His goal was to push the roots as deep as they could go before the start of the 2017 season.

Hill tried a combination of Holganix, a plant based bionutritional product, and Mirimichi Green, a soil enhancer, on the baseball field’s turf.

“Those two products alone may have completely changed our entire year,” Hill said. “They drove our roots all the way down to the gravel layer!”

The combination of alternating the crew’s traffic pattern during transition and adding those products to the field has kept the Greater Nevada Field green and thriving, despite its heavy use.

Hill encourages other field directors to experiment with different supplements and additives to find a solid combination that works for their turf. He said Holganix and Mirimichi Green combined with his regular granular program has been a foundation for the field’s successful season.

With thousands of fans and two sports teams counting on successful field transitions, reliable staff, products and support are a must.

Hill said one of the toughest challenges he faced was creating and balancing a schedule that had his crew in the right place at the right time.

“I am extremely fortunate to have two great assistants, Drew Tice and Corey Diaz,” He said. “They greatly contribute to our program’s success.”

Going through the process to find great assistants and assemble a foolproof staff took time, but Hill said it’s a large part of what has made the field transition program at Greater Nevada Field work.

When it comes to watering the soccer field, Hill turned to Kochek hoses and nozzles.

“They’re crucial to this process as we have them plugged in and ready to go as we are laying sod for the soccer field,” He said.

Currently, Hill’s crew hand waters 100 percent of the field during the soccer season; so reliable irrigation products are critical.

Hill also suggested field directors find a reliable supplier. Hill teamed up with Jim Barbuto, a National Turf Fields Specialist for Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply.

“He’s been a huge help in making sure that what we need for both baseball and soccer is here on time and in order,” Hill said. “He has a true understanding of what we are doing here and he helps me out in every way that he can.”

Finding a supplier that understands your needs can make or break a program that deals with frequent field transitions.

Love what you do

Baseball hall of famer Tommy Lasorda once said, “In baseball and in business, there are three types of people. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happened.”

When presented with the challenge, Hill and his crew stepped up to home plate and made field transitioning a winning operation at Greater Nevada Field.

“On the surface, baseball and soccer sharing a field looks like a major task, and it is,” Hill said. “But it’s been the best thing that I’ve ever done in my career, and I’m thankful for it.”