Top 6 most common volunteer groundskeeping mistakes
volunteers, God love ’em. The games of baseball and softball usually can’t go
on without these dedicated people who are there to either teach or just help
out. Most are genuinely trying hard to do the right thing; others are just
there to fill a void. It is no wonder that sports field managers cringe when
they find out that the coaches and volunteers worked together to get a game in
after a rain event. Instead of throwing caution to the wind and doing whatever
it takes to get your game in, consider the consequences to the quality of the
field surface, those who must fix it, and the other teams that are affected by
at some of the most common groundskeeping mistakes committed by those with good
intentions, but still create undesirable results:
Using a broom or squeegee to push
standing water off your infield skin. Infield soil and topdressing are picked up along with the
water and pushed off into the lip. This ends up building the lip higher,
creating a natural dam, and also making the low spot, where the water
collected, lower due to infield material being pushed out along with the water.
action is to use a puddle pump or puddle sponges to suck up and remove excess
freestanding water in the low spots.
Using excessive amounts of drying
agent. The only
thing this does is waste large dollar amounts of drying agent to get games
played. Excess drying agent remains on the field afterward, which can increase
the speed of the field drying, but it can also help store more water at the
surface in a rain event as the calcined clay drying agent gorges itself with
water. This may actually slow the drying process if too much is sitting on the
surface. On a field without a water source, you can actually suffer from the
field getting too dry and hard as the calcined clay sucks every bit of moisture
out of the infield skin.
If you walk
on an infield and it is soft enough that your feet sink, it is too soft to play
on. Incredible amounts of damage can occur on a ballfield when it is played on
when the infield skin is too soft. Let Mother Nature do her evaporative magic
first. Once the field is stable enough to walk on, then you can work to dry the
low spots by removing the freestanding water first. Only then should you use
drying agent to finish the drying process and it will take much less material
to do so.
Dragging an infield without removing
bases, then pulling a drag right over the top of them. This causes infield soil to build
up around the bases, slowly burying them and making them harder to remove. This
also destroys the consistency of the surface grade across the infield. This is
just plain lazy.
action is to remove the bases and place in dugouts. Install base plugs in base
anchors before dragging infield. Cut down any high areas under or around bases
with an iron rake or aluminum field rake.
Dragging infield material into the
turf edges. When
dragging the infield, if the drag wanders onto the turf edges, it deposits infield
soil and topdressing into the turf edges which is then glued in by rainfall and
irrigation cycles, unless cleaned out fairly soon afterwards. As this material
builds up in the turf, it creates a lip that becomes a natural dam impeding the
free flow of rainfall off the playing surface.
minimum of 6 inches away from the edge of the infield skin where it meets the
turf. This will help to reduce the incidence of lip build-up. Additionally, use
a push broom, leaf rake, backpack blower, yard vacuum or power broom to pull
loose material out of the turf edges after you drag the skin area.
Packing dry mound spoils back into
the wear holes on the mound slope. This is basically wasted effort, pure and simple. Water
and clay are the glue that binds a soil together. Without those, no binding
will take place, no matter how hard you pulverize and pound the old clay that
has been kicked out of the wear areas. Additionally, if you pull the old clay
laying on the surface of the mound back into place, it undoubtedly has also
been contaminated with other materials, like topdressing or infield soil, which
drastically reduce the binding power of the used material.
action, and the only way to patch a clay area that produces an effectively
sturdy and stable patch, is by using fresh new clay and water. The process is
Sweep all loose material away from
the wear holes.
Use water to adequately moisten the
sides and bottom of the holes. Allow some time for the water to absorb into the
Add fresh clean clay to the wear
areas and tamp into place. Level as needed.
Sprinkle some water over the entire
surface of the patch.
Pull old topdressing and other
material back over patch and finish groom.
Not using tarps on the clay areas on
the mound and home plate at the end of the day. The clay areas are left open to
the atmosphere where evaporation will pull the moisture out of the mound and
batter’s box clay. Without the moisture in the clay, it fractures and chunks
out of those areas very easily, drastically reducing its effectiveness of
providing proper footing for a pitcher or hitter.
tarps are available, place the mound and plate tarps on whenever you finish a
game or practice and no one else is around to use the field. It is always important
to minimize evaporation on the clay whenever possible. BONUS: If water is
available, add some water to the clay areas on the mound and batter’s box to
replace what Mother Nature evaporated during the time you were using the field.
Just don’t overdo it.
field managers have a tough and challenging job to do, especially at schools
and park and recs where their time is limited at each field they manage. I’ve
never met a sports field manager who didn’t have incredible pride in the work
they do, no matter the situation that gets handed to them. The hope is that
coaches and volunteers respect what these field managers do in order for the
rest of us to play our games, both competitive and recreational.
To avoid these common groundskeeping mistakes, coaches and volunteers should only perform minimal work on a field—unless they have received some training. An excellent and free resource for basic game day groundskeeping skills is available through Beacon Athletics at GroundskeeperU.com, which offers eight modules covering the basics of ballfield maintenance. The training is geared toward coaches, volunteers, summer help or new grounds employees; users can signup for a free account and track their progress through the modules and lessons. In the end, you can take the final exam to gain “certification,” but you must be a logged in user to track your progress.
Zwaska, a former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, is director of
education and strategic initiatives for Beacon Athletics since 2000. In 2012,
Paul authored and oversaw the launch of “Groundskeeper University,”
the first online ballfield maintenance-training venue.
Editor’s note: Beacon Athletics just announced they will be part of MLB’s London series next month; MLB’s field consultant for the games, Murray Cook, will have his crew using the Beacon SweetSpot tamp as well as various Beacon infield drags and nail drags and spikers.