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Better Fields for Better Play issue #14- Dirt, turf, and budget needs
January 03, 2010

Better Fields for Better Play - issue 13

Dear Baseball Fan,

Many of you are getting started on your softball and baseball field for the spring season.  In this issue, Jim helps you get a better baseball dirt mix, set up a budget, and level all those lumps and ruts in your dirt and grass.  Last, but not least, we take a look at how to best get your turf going again.

Issue 14

January 2010



21 Dirt Maintenance Blunders to Avoid

Conversation with Sports Turf Manager of the Year

Make 'em a Field They Can't Refuse

How I Cut Field Maintenance Time in Half

What Players Never Tell You

The Most Important Thing for Your Turf

Trials and Triumphs of a Young Pitcher

The Coach Thinks in Terms of Results


Article Archive


"You will never have significant success with anything until it becomes an obsession with you." -- Coach Gunter.


What Others are Saying:

Thank you for your reply to my question about our highschool baseball field. I have given your website information and email reply to our coach. He is working on getting the field in shape. He had a "turf" guy from the nearby university come out but he steered clear of the infield dirt and that is where most of the problems are. The turf is in pretty good shape.

Your website is very good and filled with easy to understand information. I especially enjoyed reading about the case studies. My husband and I both work in "soil science" and found your discussions about soil type and structure very good. Soils or dirt are more complicated than most people give them credit for and your website certainly helps to explain what some of the issues are.
Thanks again,
Nancy W.


Thanks for providing a great website. I have volunteered to help fix multiple field issues for my local baseball program and felt like I struck gold when I found your site a few days ago.

Joseph I. Mass.

Answers for readers:

I am looking to purchase a mower. Do you have any pictures of fields where rotary mowers are used to maintain vs. reel mowers. Is there a huge difference in the level of quality of the mowed surface for a reel mower?  Thanks. Jeff

Hi Jeff,

All the pictures of baseball fields on my website are done by rotary mowers. Some are the 21 inch walk behind rotary mowers. Some are 42 inch rotary blade riding mowers and some are large mowers with three sets of 42 inch rotary blades.

Rotary mowers work great for blue grass, rye, and fescue. You can get it down to one and a fourth inches which is pretty good. These grasses are in the north USA to mid section. Usually not in the hot dry or tropic south.

Reel mowers work great for Bermuda which you probably have in southern Texas. Now a rotary mower will work also. It's just that a reel mower can go shorter. Maybe down to 3/4 inch. Most MLB fields have 3/4 inch infield and 7/8 outfield. Reel mowers are the choice. And they stripe nice. We have some bermuda infields that we overseed with rye in the winter. About May/June the bermuda takes over. I continue using a rotary on it and it looks fine. Just keep the blade sharp.

Rotary mowers can stripe the grass, but not as well as the reel mowers unless you get an attachment just for striping.

Is there really a huge difference in quality between reel and rotary?
For rye, bluegrass, and fescue I think not. That's why I use the rotary. For Bermuda or golf course type grasses, yes, reel can do a better job. But you need to mow at least 3 times a week in the growing season.

Some other considerations:
Rotary is cheaper, has a greater selection, and easy to get parts for.
Reel is more expensive, requires constant adjustments of the cutting blades including sharpening more often, and is not as plentiful in supply as the rotary. For high end fields, it is worth it though.

Either way, I'd opt for the self-propelled type and the wider the better.

Hope that helps.

Also, I'm sure you know you need a good, secure place to store your mower. I was shocked the other day to find out that one of the walk behind mowers I use was stolen from the locked bin at a local little league field. So, I've been mowing with the larger 42 inch riding mower. The cut is not nearly as nice though. I guess I'm old school on this. I like the walk behind because the cut is more even and I can 'feel' the lumps and bumps I need to fix when I am walking behind the mower as opposed to riding on one.

best regards,


I liked your section on the steam roller. About 8 weeks ago I laid grass and have some high and low spots in addition to some gaps. Would you suggest filling in the gaps and then rolling or rolling first and then filling in those spots?

Thank you again for your feedback.

I would recommend filling in the gaps before rolling. I've done it both ways and found better success that way. You get the best result if you fill in low spots or gaps first. You don't have to get it perfect. The roller takes care of that. Then aerate afterwards and drag the cores around to break them up and spread them to put a nice finishing touch on it.

best regards,

Where should I put my stake at to make the radius for both the softball and baseball field. I understand using a sod cutter and painting the line but where to place a stake to make the radius of the infield/outfield edge is confusing me.

Thanks, Carlos

Hi Carlos,

The stake would go centered right at the back of the picture rubber. Then you measure from there to the outfield grass and mark the arc to cut.

best regards,

From the bookstore

Baseball Field Maintenance Handbook

Transforming Your Baseball Field into a Winning Field

A 132 page "How-To" Baseball Field Maintenance Handbook to Give Your Players the Opportunity to Play Their Best and Make Your Own Field of Dreams. 

Includes 45 page BONUS publication: How to Fund Your Baseball Field Improvements.


Your One Stop Place to Increase
Field Safety and Playability
This issue available on the web at:

  • BALLFIELD DIRT ANALYSIS: Getting a better dirt mix!


  • SOURCE FOR DIRT MIX: How do I find a local supplier?


  • The best way to drag a baseball field... what is it?

  • Need to level your field?  Here are five ways to fix it.

  • Setting up renovation and maintenance budget and calendar
  • BONUS: How to start early season fertilizing

On Improving My Ball Field Dirt Mix

I'm at Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico where it rains alot.  The softball field dirt mix looks like it is 60 percent sand and 20 percent clay, 20 percent silt.  What can I do to firm it up?  What are the plus and minus with this?   Thanks. Wilson,  USARMY.

Hi Wilson,

Softball fields generally are best if the infield dirt mix is hard and level. Harder than a baseball hardball field. That way you get true bounces and firm footing as a softball fielder.

The mix you describe would appear to be a bit loose. However, there are pros and cons to this.

Regardless of the dirt mix the real issue is the moisture management. At the MLB level there are fields that vary from 20 percent clay to 60 percent clay. Depends on climate - tropics to tundra - and whether it is outdoor or enclosed. Proper moisture management can give these all the same playing feel. Moisture management means keeping the dirt mix moist and firm, but not dry or muddy.

You have a lot of rain. This is similar to fields along the coast of Oregon and northern CA. These are usually higher in sand so the water can drain.

If you need the drainage then you need the high amount of sand.

Other consideration about dirt mix:

Higher sand mix is easier to quickly level with a mesh drag.
Harder surface needs more dragging with a nail drag to do the job.

More sand leaves heal marks, causes fielders to slip, and balls to die and not bounce as much as you think it should.

Harder surfaces, if too hard, are rough on players sliding and bounces can go higher than expected. That's why hard clay surfaces are nail dragged to groom the surface.

If you are new to working with this field, try regular dragging or raking if you can to see if it makes for a good playing surface. If it does not, then either roll it occaisionally with a steam roller if you have one or a water filled lawn roller. That helps pack it down for you.

And lastly, if it looks like you need to add firmness to the playing mix, then add in more clay/silt to the top inches. Mix with a tiller you have one. Then water and firm with a roller. This process takes more work and is a good solution if the other suggestions above aren't getting you the playing surface you want.

So, that's my thoughts. Hope this helps.
Any more questions, let me know.

And thank you for serving in our armed forces.
It is most appreciated by my family and friends here!

About Building a Baseball Field

I need a baseball field quotation, to build one any cost estimate. We own a piece of land and we are going to construct a baseball facility, turf in the infield, grass in the outfield, 2 dugouts, 1 backstop and lights. Of course fenced. Thank you for the help. Chairon in Florida

Hi Chairon,

Check this link on my website.
Look at number 2. Open the pdf for a grant application.

Page 11-14 will give you an overview of what it takes to build a field and sigificantly upgrade an existing one. Lighting not included. Best rough guess on lighting is it costs about $200,000.

The major obstacle for most people is not only the money, but also getting your Florida neighbors nearby to OK lighting at night.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

I Need a Local Source for Good Baseball Mix

I am in the process of repairing a field that has been neglected for about three years. I need a source that supplies a brick clay mix . Thanks.  Brent, San Antonio


1. A good source for baseball mix across the USA would be to start with They provide baseball mix, clay, sand, etc. to many major and minor league fields across the US.

2. Other sources you might have locally:
major or minor league teams: find out where they get their mix

3. Rock yards and trucking companies: these usually have access to baseball dirt since they supply this to high schools and little leagues in your area.

4. Local park and rec departments – find out where they get their infield mix – however, realize they usually go for cheap decomposed granite stuff that you definitely don’t want on your field

5. Any local high school that has a decent baseball program – again find out where they get their mix for their baseball field.

You will have to let your fingers to the walking a little bit via phone calls to get these leads and find out what they have.

The Best Way to Drag Your Infield is Spiral Dragging

You tell us that the best to vary the way we drag and include spiral dragging. What do you mean by spiral dragging?? 
Dennis, New York


Maybe the best way to explain this is to compare what is usually done.

Many people drag the infield skin back and forth going from the first base foul line past second base to the third base foul line and then turn around and head back to the first base side. This back and forth dragging tends to create high spots at the foul lines and low spots at second and short stop. And if the drag is always removed at the same spot, behind third base for example, you get a high spot there too.

What I call spiral dragging greatly reduces the likelihood of high spots or low spots. However, this is best done by pulling a metal mesh drag behind a small tractor or riding mower. What I described above can be done by hand pulling the drag back and forth.

Spiral dragging means dragging in circles, but let the circles slowly move across the field from one foul line to another. Sort of like the old spirograph art set I had as a kid. Start on one side and move across as you make overlapping circles. This is great for leveling out the field. It takes a little more time though than the back and forth dragging.

You could probably do the quick back and forth dragging most of the time, but then do the spiral dragging once a week to really get it leveled back out.

And lastly, try not to let the drag go over the grass edges. This prevents lip buildup.

Five Ways To Level Your Lumpy, Bumpy Baseball Field
(Reprint from 2009: this is one of the most popular questions we get)

We have an existing field that needs to have holes filled and general leveling. If we till or seed or add dirt, how long would it be before we could play on it? (similar question submitted by dozens of people).

All, here are 5 ways to fix problems like this that have worked for me:

1. Big holes or ruts in the outfield: fill them in with reclaimed sand and cover with topsoil. I get tons of free reclaimed sand from a local cement plant. They wash out the cement trucks when they come back and 'reclaim' the small sand and aggregate. This stuff is not fine sand. It has some very small pebbles. They give it away. But, this is perfect for filling in big areas in the outfield or the warning track.

2. Uneven infield turf: best thing to do is several applications of topdressing. Depending on your size of your baseball field - little league or high school size you have more work. I put out five tons of top soil / compost on a high school infield and dragged it with a metal mesh drag to level it out. (Mowed it short first.) I did this in April and again in August. It is perfectly smooth now.

3. Infield turf with major ruts and undulations: on a senior little league baseball field I spread out 10 tons of top soil / compost and dragged it level. This field had big problems so I went with lots of dirt. I do not recommend doing that much at once unless you have a major, major problem to fix. Now the nice thing about this is that you can water it in and play on it in a day. I did this in October.

4. Infield skin (dirt) not level: One of the easiest ways to fix this is to add about 3-5 tons on a little league baseball field or 10-20 tons on a high school baseball field and spread, till with a tractor and rear tiller, then level with a box or leveler device, and drag. Water it in to help settle it. Drag or rake to fine tune the surface. Done. I just did this with 25 tons on a high school field.

5. Major infield turf problems:
scrape with a tractor and smooth bucket and start over. This is a lot of work. You need to put down a good topsoil and level it. Sod takes 3-4 weeks to grow in before you can use it. Seed takes 6-8 weeks to grow in enough for competitive play. I did this kind of field renovation for a baseball field at a park and rec department. It was so bad, there was no other real way to fix it.

Bonus: Based on what you tell me and the many baseball field problems I've seen, there is one more thing you could do. It works best after it has rained a couple days, but then you have a day or two of sun. Use a 3-5 ton steam roller on the infield turf and the outfield turf. Mark your sprinklers first so you do not hit them. Roll the turf. It will be very flat. You should also mow first. And it would be a good idea to aerate after you roll it. Rolling the turf is often done on multiuse fields where football or soccer tears up the out field and puts in lots of ruts when playing on the wet ground. I have done this on several fields. Works great. Alternative is to use the water filled lawn roller, but this is slower and harder to do. Put those football players to work pushing it around.

P.S. in general I find it easier and better to work with what you have - add top dressing and level it - versus doing major tilling and new seed. But it just depends how bad it is and how much time you can afford to not be using the field.

Private donor willing to fund renovation and maintenance: Need ballpark estimates

I would be interested to learn what it would cost [materials & labor] to rejuvenate three fields (80' Pony league, 50' Teeny league, 60' Softball; no sprinkler systems) for use by March 2010, utilizing your turf and dirt maintenance plans and what the approximate cost to mow 2x weekly for the infield/outfield grass (warm season) would be February to October.

A private donor wants to sponsor the rejuvenation and maintenance costs for this year and I would like to give him some "ball-park" figures. Thank you in advance for your consideration. Raymond.

Hi Raymond,
I can give you some 'ball-park' ideas and costs.

You'll probably have some more questions. Don't hesitate to ask.

So, here goes.
I'm assuming you'll be following the turf checklist here:

You should be able to do all three fields either on the same day or over a weekend. This also assumes some prior planning and marking for equipment use.

Rent a sod cutter for a day - $78. Use it to make the cut outs to spec and remove any lip build up.

Rent a lawn aerator for a day - $89. Use it to aerate the infields. Each will take about 30 minutes. Outfields take longer. As much as 3 hours for a full size field.

Buy a 50 pound bag of grass seed for the two grass infields - $80.

Buy a 50 pound bag of starter fertilizer (6-20-20) for the infields - $25.

If you overseed and fertilize the outfield turf, then you'll need quite a few more bags of each. For a full size outfield, plan to use at least 4 of each.

You say you have no sprinklers. So you need to time this work between rains or just before a series of rains to get the seed to germinate and grow. You'll need day temperatures to exceed 50 degrees F for it to grow.

Are your fields relatively smooth or do you have lumps, bumps, holes, etc.? If so then you should get 3-5 yards of topdressing for spread on each and level it out. Topdressing should be a combination of topsoil, sand, and a bit of compost. This costs about $25 per yard where I am.

Same for the outfield. If you have holes, fill them in. Get as much as you need to spread and level it.

I can tell you that outfields usually don't get quite the pampering as the infields. But it is always good to at least aerate, seed, and fertilize them.

Mounds and batter boxes: Rebuild to spec as needed. Get some unfired clay bricks or some mound clay. Bricks are 50 cents each. You'll need about 40 to reinforce the holes players make.

Infield dirt areas: Most fields always need and benefit from additional dirt. If it has been a while since this has beend one, I'd go for 10 yards on the smaller field and between 20 and 30 on the larger one.

Infield mix can go for about $30 a yard.

You'll need to spread and level this. Best if you can use a tractor with a smooth bucket in the front and a rear tiller to spread and mix it in. Then you need a leveling spike drag or a heavy metal framed leveling rack to get it as close to level as possible.

Renting a tractor tiller - $300 a day.

Alternative to leveling it like I suggested above is to use a laser guided system. This is usually done by a pro and can cost $8 per square foot. It can get expensive.

The softball field: Depending on its condition, you may need to add dirt, run over it with a spike drag to level and get rid of weeds, or make sure your pitcher plate, home plate, and batter boxes are to spec. You really just want to make sure the surface is level and firm.

Check the outfield grass edge to see if there is a lip buildup there. If so, run the sod cutter along to remove it.

So, Bottom Line for initial renovation:
You can do all this on the same day or a weekend. It helps greatly if you have the seed and fertilizer on hand before as well as a cyclone spreader. Arrange the dirt deliveries for either early the morning you start work or the day before. Get the equipment as soon as the rental outfits open up.

This could be done by a team of 3 people. A few more helps. Too many more and it gets complicated or messy.

Next: on going maintenance.

You should budget about $800 for the year to cover the following:
- overseed and fertilize every 6-8 weeks
- use a sod cutter or an edger a couple times a year to keep the cutouts to spec
- gas to run your equipment
- hopefully you have a riding mower or a small ATV you can use to drag and mow
- consider a self-propelled walk behind mower for the infields
- assorted tools - rakes, shovels, wheelbarrow, drags, etc.
- tarps for mounds and homeplate as needed to minimize rainouts

I didn't cover at all the condition of your basepegs, bases, backstops, fencing, etc. If you have any problem areas here, then add that on to the list of items to fix. This checklist here is helpful to get the big picture idea of what to look for:

Lastly I suppose you may have seen these, but these project case studies give you a pretty good idea what to do and how to do it:

Hope that is helpful.
Again, if you have any questions, let me know.

Bonus - How to start early season fertilizing

When should I put down some more fertilizer? We start playing the first week of Feburary so I'm hoping to keep it as green and ready as possible.  MIchael, Arkansas

When it comes to getting ready for early season play I recommend putting out fertilizer 3 weeks ahead of playing time. But since it is cold, I also recommend going slow with it. I'd use a cool season fertilizer (half slow release and half quick release nitrogen) and put it out at about half the usual rate. Then put the rest out a week before play.

This approach takes a little more of your time, but helps get the turf going slow, but stay healthy. If it grows too fast when it is cold, it can come down with many turf problems.

And if your ground is not too wet and mushy you could also core aerate and overseed a bit three weeks before play. This also helps strengthen your turf.

Hard to believe the season starts in less than 6 weeks. Wow!
Wish you and your team the best!

Yours for better play more often,

J. Reiner

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

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Be a hero.  Knowledge is power.  Use your power to make a difference...

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Jim Reiner

Copyright, 2009, The Ultimate Baseball Field Renovation Guide.
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