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Dear Baseball Fan,

"My fields suck.  The City doesn't care.  I don't know what to do.  Help."

That's how a reader started out her question last month.  Everyone wants their field to be good for the community. Maybe they just need a small push from you.  This month we look at this problem as well as five other questions readers sent in.

Issue 8

November 2007



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.



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

  • BASEBALL FIELD DIRT: how many square feet on my field?

  • NEW CONSTRUCTION: how to build a backstop myself?

  • BASEBALL TURF: laying sod on clay dirt... will it survive?


  • Getting the City to care about renovation and upkeep

  • Grass baselines to get rid of a mud problem?  Hmmm....

  • A handbook to get your field and play to the next level

What is the total square feet of the skinned area on a little league field?

Rusty is getting ready to improve his baseball field dirt.  He has about 3,000 square feet of grass and is wondering how many square feet the skinned area would be.


With about 3,000 square feet of grass on the infield, you are referring to a little league field with 60 foot bases.

The area of the infield skin (dirt area) is about 4,200 sq ft if the infield skin cutout is to spec. Spec means that the distance from the pitcher rubber to the edge of the dirt at the outfield grass is 50 feet.

The typical amount of baseball dirt to add each year would be about 5 yards.

See this section for instruction about adding baseball field dirt

And then go to this section for more information about choices and decisions when selecting your baseball field dirt.

How do I go about building a backstop?

Hi, we are building a softball field for my church in New London, PA. I am trying to find plans or dimensions for a backstop that will support youth and adult play. We are looking to build it ourselves to save on money...any help would be appreciated..thanks.  Jerry.

Jerry, be prepared... make sure you are sitting down. Of all the pieces and parts required for any baseball field, the backstop is usually the most expensive.  It is more expensive than the dirt and sod, than the outfield fencing and dugouts, more expensive than all the drainage and irrigation. A backstop for softball fast pitch and adult play is usually 60 feet long and 30 feet high. I think it is the height that adds to the cost and need for special equipment.

Last year I got a quote of $19,000 parts and labor for a backstop on a new high school girls fast pitch softball field. I about fainted at that price.
We didn’t have them build it for that price.

Alternative: If you are not doing fast pitch, look at backstops for a little league field. This size will work. Last year we installed a backstop ourselves on one of our fields. A local high school JV field was being upgraded. So, we got all the pipes and fencing free. All we had to do was take it apart, haul it, put in the anchor pipes, and put it all together again.

What I learned from this: you can find a little league field, study the backstop (build one that goes straight up about 12 feet, not curved over toward the field), and get the pipes, fencing, and parts from an iron works yard. Lots cheaper. You just have to put it together. It’s not as hard as you might think. Look at fencing parts and examples at a Home Depot or Lowes. Same thing.

We built ours over a four day period. First day was digging holes and cementing in the anchor pipes. Next was hauling the parts. Fourth day was putting it together. Slide vertical backstops over the anchor pipes. These are heavy. Be careful. Next was putting up the brackets and horizontal pipes and screen. Needed some big guys, but got it done in an afternoon.

Funding – see if you can get discounted or donated parts. Many local businesses are willing to support private schools or churches in their community. I’ve had success with this in several communities. Maybe you have a member who has contacts with someone in the fencing business. Local banks, credit unions, and insurance companies often are willing to donate a couple hundred dollars for your project in return for an advertising sign on the fence. Have some of the youth involved in making the requests. It works. Ask and you receive.

Lesson I learned: ask and you’ll be surprised how the windows are opened to you. You’re not just asking for money or parts. You’re asking them to invest in the youth of their community. Sports is huge for character development, teamwork, discipline. Ooops. On my soapbox.

The City wants to lay sod directly on hard clay field... will the grass survive?

James writes in: I am the director of fields for our baseball association.  Our fields are maintained by the city. We want to put grass on the infields which will cost about $20,000 for this, but the city wants to lay the sod on top of the hard clay that has 2 inches of clay dust. Will the grass survive? And what should we do?


Protect the investment in sod by properly preparing the ground first. And I am assuming you have irrigation in place to water this too.

I've seen success and failure with sod.

Success usually includes this:
Prep the area by removing old scraps, till in a good soil/sand/compost mixture, roll the dirt to pack it down, put out some 6-20-20 starter fertilizer, moisten it, lay out the sod, roll the sod, put out a bit more 6-20-20, and soak it followed by regular waterings and soakings for a week before tapering off. By week three you should be able to grab the sod in your fingers, pull up, and not be able to pull up the sod - it should be well rooted.

Failure with sod:
lay sod on top of clay hard pan - nothing for the roots to grow into, poor watering - it dies, watering too light - the top is wet but the water never makes it to the roots, not rolling the dirt before sodding so then the dirt settles with undulations and is not flat, or playing on the sod field within days and constantly loosening up the roots.

Fall is a good time to do this with warm ground, but not too hot in the day. If climate is right, spring works too, but takes a bit more attention.

Here is a resource with details:

Skim through this. Talk with the city folks. I’m sure they want success with this too. If you have more questions about how to do this right, let me know. I can help

My fields suck, the City doesn't care, and I don't know how to take care of them.  Help.

Our town has 2 baseball fields that could be really nice fields. They don't seem to be maintained properly - lip buildup and really bad infield dirt (bad footing and balls don't bounce correctly) and the outfield has a slope. How can I get the town to do more maintenance on these fields? They seem to think the fields are OK. I am assuming they just don't want to spend the money, but if they built them they need to maintain them.  Carolyn.


I’d suggest three things for you:

1. Try to partner with the city for field care – sell them on it. Here is a story about how that can be done. The driving force to get something done is the fact that the current fields are not safe and playable.

2. Renovate what you have – give it a facelift. Here is a case study of a similar project and what it took to sell the idea and get it done. It took about 5 weeks and cost about $2,000 max... lots of donations and discounts and free labor.

If the lip build up is bad and the turf has grown past its area, then this will show you how to easily fix that:

3. Put in place better ongoing maintenance practices. You need to protect your investment in making the field safer and more playable.


There are more questions that come to mind about this if you pursue it.

Who maintains these? City park and rec? what kind of maintenance program do they have – mow, water, seed, fertilize – if any. Do you maintain the infield? Do you have access to tools and equipment to care for the field? Where are you? Send pictures. Do you have access to water? Rental equipment? Any kind of a budget to work with? How many players and age groups use the fields? You mention a slope – is there a drainage problem – wet fields? Have you had history of player injuries from bad bounces, slipping, etc.?

Back to the first question – How can you get the town to do more maintenance on these fields – see if you and/or the baseball league president can meet with the city park department superintendent. You need to get the attention of the guy at the top. I have done this in Fair Oaks, Citrus Heights, and Santa Cruz successfully. Show them pictures of the problems. Show them pictures of what it could look like. Offer to help. They want their fields to be good for the community. Maybe they just need a small push from you.

Grass Baselines?  Hmm...  Will that work?

Alan is the head baseball coach at a local high school.  He is considering eliminating the dirt down both baselines and replacing it with grass. He says he often has wind that causes the baselines to flood when he irrigates, so having grass baselines would eliminate that problem. Would you recommend making such a change? Can he just go to any sod farm for the grass? Does he need to worry about the sod matching the existing grass, or will it eventually blend in?


Grass baselines is unusual, but I've seen it and helped a school do just that. It made it easier for them to maintain the entire field (mowing) by just keeping it all grass. Also, most of the T-Ball fields in my area are complete grass with just a small dirt area for each base.

All-grass seems to be workable at lower ages. At high school age, the competition and speed are such that the players with metal spikes need firm clay-based basepath for speed.

As far as sod, try to get sod that is fairly close to what you have now. If your infield grass is thick blade fescue, get fescue sod. If your infield grass is thin blade rye grass, get a blend of rye sod. The sod might not match the existing right away, but after you use the same fertilizer and overseed it all, within 6 months it will be a perfect match.

P.S. Sod from a sod farm is often darker than it will eventually end up. They use some pretty strong fertilizer on the sod. Nothing like you use on a home lawn or a baseball field.

P.S.S. Also, if you sod in the baselines, be aware that the dirt areas at homeplate and first and third tend to become indented with lips. So, rake the dirt off the edges frequently.

Spring Maintenance Planning

I can hardly believe it.  The fall league just finished last week.  But booster clubs and little leagues are setting up their December meetings to plan projects and budget for early 2008.

I've found that the audit checklist is the way to go.  It also shows me where the priority areas are for the ball part to be safe and playable.


Project Update : The baseball field maintenance handbook

The fact is every field is different – size, composition, geography, climate, condition.  The big promise is that your field can be a championship field.  The handbook I started working on last month can help you get your field to the next level.

I plan to have this available in early 2008 in time for the spring season.  The contents is based on what I'd want in a guide if I had one:

  1. Some checklists
  2. Some worksheets for me to fill in about my field
  3. Dimensions, areas, amounts of seed, sod, dirt, fertilizer, turface, bricks
  4. Worksheets with common problems to fix or upgrades to make
  5. Sample plans with materials, tools, equipment, time to do the work, and time till it is playable for typical projects
  6. Time of year stuff I should do: what, and how much, how to do it
  7. Tips, hints, mistakes to avoid, lessons learned
  8. Advice I need but don't know it
  9. FAQs or typical projects
  10. list of materials and decisions/choices to make
  11. ‘how to’ for major problems being fixed

Would you be interested in a handbook like this?  Are there other topics you'd like included?  Let me know.  Click here.

Yours for better play more often,

J. Reiner

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



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