Red Sox Senior Director of Grounds David Mellor on the winning combination for proper infield maintenance
The infielders on a baseball team need to work like a well-oiled machine. Executing a shift, turning a double play, or adapting to all kinds of unique situations. In grounds maintenance for an infield, the virtues of chemistry and adaptability hold the same value. The groundskeeper and crew need to constantly adjust their strategy for maintenance, mainly due to the uncertainty of weather conditions, but also because of schedules and the local climate. And the need for good chemistry is twofold: the infield mix needs to be a precise blend to optimize performance, and the crew has to work in tandem to make for the best infield possible.
David Mellor, senior director of grounds for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, has been in the industry for 36 years. He now holds a dream role for his favorite team and one of the most legendary sports fields in the world. Each game at Fenway is a memorable experience for every fan and player, and the lights don’t shine any brighter than on the infield. Mellor and his crew take that responsibility seriously, and he shared with us some insights on how he keeps his infield in Major League condition.
Treat each day as unique
There’s a saying in baseball that goes, “Every time you go to a baseball game, you see something you’ve never seen before.” In the world of sports field maintenance, adapting to new and unforeseen situations is an important piece of the puzzle.
“The first thing we look at each day is weather,” said Mellor. “The temperature, the sun, the wind, the dew point, cloud cover, temperature, and not just how it is now but how it’s going to change throughout the day. All these factors impact daily infield maintenance.”
Mellor also referenced that, in his decades of experience, the technology of weather apps and forecasts has come a long way. The specifics of the day’s weather help set the stage for the watering strategy throughout the day. The first water of the day is the most important, and the timing can change dramatically depending on the weather, he added.
Hone your mix
Mellor explained that it takes a lot of research and mixing to get the infield just right.
“Technology has made big advancements with infield mixes,” he said. “Engineered infield mixes have helped change the game, allowing groundskeepers from parks and rec, Little League and Major League fields to provide better safety and playability.”
Ultimately, what you want is a field that acts like a cork board. Mellor uses the phrase “cleat in, cleat out” to describe how cleats should go in and out without any clumping from too soft, silty or sandy soil. Investing in a soil test, an engineered infield mix, and laser leveling the infield skin with proper grade are investments in your field, and benefit your overall program. All work in tandem to provide safety and playability and reduce rainouts.
Learn your field
According to Mellor, most of all, it’s important to get to know your field and figure out what works on your particular field.
“If you are inheriting a field, it’s important to learn the characteristics of the skin mix,” he said. “Learn how it holds water, how it drains and how it dries out.” How it holds moisture is key, because the field needs to have good moisture in it to perform at its best, and not just at the surface. “You want to water it deep into the skin, not just at the surface, so it’s consistent throughout,” said Mellor.
He also recommends investing in a soil test to see what your field is made of and how to treat it. Use the soil test to find out the percentages of sand, silt, clay and breakout of all five types of sand (course, very course, medium, fine and very fine), as well as silt-to-clay ratio (SCR). You want the majority of the sand particles to be in the medium range. He uses the example of marbles in a jar. If all the sand particles (marbles) are very coarse, it’s going to be beachy and unstable; and if they’re all very fine it’s going to lock up tight and be hard. Whereas, if the majority are in the medium range, it’s going to help provide stability. Your soil test information will be helpful to learn about the skin mix you have and how to amend your mix to get it to perform better.
Beyond the skin mix, the rest of your equipment should be versatile, and requires trial and error to deliver the desired result depending on weather, moisture, and topdressing conditioner. Mellor and his coworkers use an adjustable 1-inch hose nozzle that helps with flexibility of water flow, Turface infield conditioner, coco mats, metal drags, a bunker rake, brooms, scrapers and rakes, different weight nail drags, battery-powered hand and backpack blowers to blow material out of edges, and even a 500-pound split drum push roller to achieve different tasks. “In the end, you need to find what works for your staff and your field,” he said.
Get to know and support your staff
Speaking of staff, invest in your staff and treat them well, said Mellor. If you have a team that works on your field, the field performance is only as good as the people who maintain it.
“You need to have equipment and people that you can count on,” he said. “So many people take so much pride in their fields, across all leagues and fields. They care so much, and I take my hat off to them. I send a big thank you to everyone for all of the extra efforts, time and attention caring for your fields, keeping them safe and playable. The work you do lets people create memories on the fields.”
It’s a big responsibility to curate an infield, and a lot goes into it, but it’s worth it to provide the best field possible, from the Little Leagues to the bright lights of the big leagues.
Editor’s Note: These materials were provided by BOB-CAT Mowers and RYAN turf renovation equipment. David Mellor appears in this article on their behalf.