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How I Cut Field Maintenance Time By More Than 50%
June 15, 2007  --  Issue 16
  
Better Fields for Better Play
Jim Reiner

Yes, I really did cut my spring and fall field maintenance time by more than 50%.

Sounds outrageous doesn't it?  Here's what I did.

First, a little background.  The baseball field I'm referring to is a multi-use field.  It's shared by college, high school, and PONY league.   And the field is used from March to November with only a break in August.

Every February and September it really needs a complete field maintenance overhaul...  just before the spring baseball season and just before the fall season. 

Here's the baseball field maintenance work that needed to be done on this full sized field twice a year on a large scale:

  • mow the field
  • edge all the grass lines including the bullpen area
  • aerate the turf
  • fertilize
  • fix the lip buildup all around the grass/dirt edges
  • level out the infield skin - especially around the bases
  • rebuild the infield mound and the bullpens
  • remove weeds growing in the infield skin (dirt)
  • level out the lumps and bumps that developed in the infield turf
  • overseed and spot seed thin areas in the turf
  • water, water, water and more water for the turf - a hot August always stressed out the grass
  • tamp batter boxes, catcher areas, and mounds

The first time I did all this baseball field maintenance work it took four days. Four long days working from 6am to 8pm.  And I had five players helping.   By the thrid time I did all this work, I was able to complete it all by myself in two days working from 8am to 4pm.  Much more reasonable.

So, here's how I did it. 

I got smarter about sequencing the field maintenance work, taking notes about the locations of sprinklers, using proper power equipment, and showing up with the right tools and supplies by anticipating the problems I needed to fix.  I also made sure I had plenty of food and water to keep myself hydrated and energized. (sidebar: I live 150 miles from this field, so I had to get pretty good at planning a two day work trip)

OK. Let's start with that list of work and I'll tell you how I got the field maintenance work done a lot quicker.

  • mow the field - The park and rec guys mow on Thursdays.  So, I timed my work for Friday and Saturday.  That way I didn't have to mow. And freshly mowed turf is easier to aerate, edge, fertilize and water.  Timing helped.

  • mark the sprinklers - I learned where all the sprinklers were so I could mark them without turning them on.  I could just walk the baseball field and place the sprinkler flags on the dirt side of the sprinkler.  No guessing needed about exactly where the sprinkler is.  No need to cycle the sprinklers on and then run around and flag them. (I did have to do this the first couple times till I got it down.)

  • water the grass areas that were dry; this also helped the aerating process later.

  • aerate the turf - I used a rental.  It was a walk behind, mechanically driven, core aerator.  I learned that the baseball infield could be done in 30 minutes.  The side foul grass areas took another 20 minutes.  I ran the machine full throttle.

  • line the cutouts and the grass edges - I learned the idiosycrosies of this field.  Basepaths are supposed to be 3 feet on either side of the line.  But this field had one that was four feet and one that was 3 and 1/2 feet.  Once I knew where the sprinklers were and knew the exact measurements for a straight line, it was easy to just measure once, string it, and use white field spray paint to draw the line.  Knowing the exact measurements for the cutouts helped too. I didn't have to stop and look anything up.  Just measure, make the arc and paint it.  This also saved some wear and tear on my knees by not having to bend down so often.

  • edge all the grass lines including the bullpen area - I ended up with lots of grass scraps.  I mean lots.  I used a tractor with a scoop to haul these off the field to a dumping area.  This alone speeded up the clean up process by several hours rather than wheelbarrowing the scraps off the field.  The best time improvement I made with field maintenance is right here.  I used a sod cutter with four wheels.  The type with two wheels and a roller didn't work well at all - hard to stay straight and I alwasy felt like I was fighting it.  So, once I got a light weight machine with the four pneumatic tires, the job time and effort was more than cut in half.

  • get a tractor with a scoop and a rear tiller.  The rear tiller comes in handy for fixing the infield skin later and getting rid of all the small weeds on the skin and basepaths.  Sometimes the bullpens down the foul lines are so messed up, it's easier to just cut off the overgrown sod with the sod cutter and use the rear tiller to churn up the dirt.  Then use a field rake to reshape it.  Packing comes later with the steam roller.

  • overseed and spot seed thin areas in the turf - this is easy to do with the large walk behind cyclone spreader.  One 50 pound bag of sports turf seed does the job - a mix of blue grass and rye grass for this field

  • fertilize - the home variety of spreaders take way too long on 12,000 square feet of turf.  Use a cyclone spreader that sends fertilizer out 15 feet on either side.  Two 50 pound bags will do the job.

  • fix the lips all around the grass/dirt edges - some of this is removed by using the sod cutter to edge. The rest I removed by aerating the edge back and forth 10-20 times and raking the cores away to the infield grass.  Then I used a shovel to dig a small 2-3 inch trench along the grass line - I just slid the shovel along digging it out.  The lip and any lumps and bumps in the turf are leveled out by running a 1 1/2 ton steam roller over it.  Instant flat surface.  Just don't roll over a sprinkler.

  • level out the infield skin - especially around the bases; I did this quickly by first running the tractor tiller over the infield keeping the depth at 3 inches.  The tiller has a leveling bar on the back that levels behind it.  Run the tiller around a few times and then hook a metal mesh drag with a leveling bar on the back and drag that.  Instant level playing field.  Then lightly water and roll it with the steam roller after running it along the lips.

  • rebuild the infield mound and the bullpens - I learned to stop at the nearby rock and landscape supply store and get 2 five gallon buckets of clay.  I'd use this to fill in the holes on the mound and the bullpens if they had degraded drastically.  I mentioned earlier that I'd use the sod cutter around these mounds to shape them and then use the rear tiller if needed on the bullpens to churn and form the mound.  Then I'd run the steamroller up the incline and the top.  Perfect mound that is very firm.
  • remove weeds growing in the infield skin (dirt) - I did this with the tractor tiller and got a few of them out by hand with a hula hoe. The tilling and dragging pretty much got rid of all weeds.

  • level out the lumps and bumps that developed in the infield turf - I did this by running the steam roller across the turf back and forth.  One pass each way.  No more bumps.  Do this after aerating and definitely not if the field is wet and soggy.  The goal is to level the field, not put ruts in it.

  • water, water, water and more water for the turf - a hot August always stressed out the grass.  I did this at the end of each day with a combination of handwatering the areas that were stresses as well as just letting the rainbird sprinklers run.

  • tamp batter boxes, catcher areas, and mounds.  I covered this by using the roller over these areas.

Whew!

Summary: Cut your field maintenace time by as much as half by know your field, anticipating problems you'll be facing, sequencing the work, and using power equipment.

I know this sounded like a lot, because it is.  But the before and after is just incredible.  People who don't see the field maintenance work done are amazed at how much better a field looks in just a couple days or a week.

Sidebar: I used rental equipment for the field maintenance work.  The first couple times I had to call ahead, reserve it, and have it delivered.  By the third time I overhauled this field, I was using a rental place two blocks from the field.  I walked over, checked out what I needed, and drove it down the street to the field.  So, I'd use the aerator, sod cutter, and steam roller each for less than an hour.  I'd use the tractor for about three hours.  Very cheap and easy and fast.  Field maintenance at its best!


Yours for better play more often,

J. Reiner

Jim Reiner
Publisher, Editor, & Groundskeeper
The Ultimate Baseball Field Renovation Guide

Want to see examples of doing this work?  Check out the project gallery and learn to cut your field maintenace time.



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