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Dear Baseball Fan,

What's the most important question about your baseball field?  Some say there are only two questions that matter:

  • what do you want?
  • how are you going to get it?

Those are hard to argue with.  But I'm going to add a third: it's the most difficult challenge you're facing right now.  The one that if you had the answer to, you'd be a hero and your players would enjoy a championsip field.

In this issue, find out how others have solved their most difficult questions right now.

Issue 17

October 2012



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

  • RECENTLY INSTALLED SOD: when can I play on it?

  • NEW FIELD NEEDS GRASS: am I too late?

  • EDGING THE TURF: how do I make a straight cut?


  • Fixing a baseball dirt mix that is nothing but dirt

  • Planning for Spring already?

  • My next project - How can I help more fields play better?

I recently installed sod - when can I play on it?

Chris is an assistant coach at a local high school.   He installed sod around the edges of the infield, pitchers mound and home plate about a month ago. He wants to know how soon he can get back on the field to use it for baseball offseason workouts or play a game.


If you did all the preparation and installation right a month ago, then you should be able to play on it now.  Proper sod installation includes:
old grass removed, topsoil and compost added, roll flat, put out some 6-20-20 starter fertilizer, moisten, install sod, roll, fertilize, soak the first couple days, then regular watering and mowing.

The best way to test if sod is ready for play is the "grab and pull test."

Use two hands to grab a grass area where you did not sod. Feel how nothing gives? It is solid. Now grab a sod area with two hands. Pull up. If the roots have taken hold, you will not be able to feel any indication of loose sod. It will feel just like the old grass area. You can play on it.

If you grab it and it moves a bit or feels loose, then you need to wait. This grab and pull method is the best way to ensure the sod is firm enough for pitcher fielding drills. You do not want a pitcher loosing footing from loose sod and getting hurt.

Also, your sod is ready for another application of fertilizer if you installed it a month ago. Regular fertilizer is fine. Something like 16-8-8 or cool season 21-4-7.

My new field needs grass.  Am I too late?

We're in Folsom, CA (near Sacramento)and construction of the new high school is way behind schedule. The two new baseball diamonds were to have been sodded a month ago but weren't. Now, there's reluctance to plant any grass seed or sod because of fear that the grass roots won't establish themselves before going dormant. We need those fields to be playable (for daily practice and games) by next spring . The fields are ready to go, we just need grass. Do you have any good ideas for us? Can we coax those roots somehow to establish themselves over the late fall/winter? Chris.

This is a perfect time in Sacramento to sod or seed. The days are not too hot and the nights stay around 50 degrees. This time of year (September – October) is actually better for seeding than the spring.

I will give you some options and then tell you what I would do based on what I know about your project.

First – sizing: Typical high school field has about 7,500 square feet of
infield grass and about 45,000 square feet of outfield grass.

Sod: Bermuda sod would go dormant in the winter and take till April before it greens up. A sod made of 90 percent rye and 10 percent bluegrass would be perfect for fall, winter, and spring. And with care it can be fine in the hot summer. Sod made of 50 percent rye and 50% bluegrass is susceptible to fungus in the hot summer in Sacramento.

I get sod from Horizon at about 30 cents a square foot. Installers would cost about 10 cents per square foot. The Horizon outlets in Sacramento use Delta Bluegrass in Stockton and Pacific Sod in Patterson. Delta grows the grass used in PacBell park. Good stuff. I used it on a
college field in Santa Cruz. Of course, you need to follow normal sod
practices with rolling and watering.

Seed: A sports turf mix from Horizon is 80 percent rye and 20 percent blue grass. This makes a perfect infield grass. A 50 pound bag is about $80 and covers 5,000 square feet on new turf or 10,000 square feet when over seeding existing turf. There is also a trophy mix which is 90 percent fescue and 10 percent bluegrass.

Differences: rye germinates in less than a week. Fescue takes 2 or 3 weeks to germinate. Rye is thinner and can be mowed shorter. Fescue is wider and withstands drought a bit better. A lot of lawns are fescue.

Right now I am over seeding 6 baseball fields and three yards with
the sports turf mix
. I started about three weeks ago by aerating first.
They all look great.

Hydroseed: shoot a mixture of seed, fertilizer, and mulch on the field. A
contact in your area is Dan Owen at Owen’s Hydroseed. 916-359-7439.

If you seed or sod you will need to put out starter fertilizer. This is
6-20-20. Fifty pounds is about $14. A bag covers the infield.

Are you too late?  NO! But, time is running out. This is the week for you to do something. You have nice weather. I assume you have full irrigation in place. You need to watch the watering. Water frequently, but do not overwater. Sod or seed will be very playable come mid February 2008. Fertilize again in about 4 weeks with cool season fertilizer. Then let it set till late January and fertilize again with the cool season fertilizer. You will have a great field by mid February in time for baseball season.

Here is what I would do if I were you. Seed with the sports turf mix. It
is 1 / 15th the cost of sod. If you have a thin spot, just put out more. Easy
to do. Use a cyclone spreader, drag a metal leaf rake over the area to
lightly mix dirt and seed, spread fertilizer, and start watering.

I hope you are able to get something going soon. According to landscape professionals in your area, the absolute drop dead date to put out seed is Thanksgiving. If you wait till after that, you might as well wait till February. So, you still have a couple weeks, but the sooner the better.

Seed has a hard time germinating when the temperature goes lower than 50 degrees. P.S. Horizon on Broadway has over a pallet of 80/20 Sports Turf seed. 40 bags to a pallet. In case you are wondering, I am not a paid advertiser if you use them or anything else I recommend. Another good source for seed and fertilizer is Sierra Pacific Turf Supply. There is one in Rocklin near you.

How do I edge straight?

Brett writes in about adging the turf.  How do I edge the base lines to look straight and even? I do not have a sod cutter. I have an edger and a weed eater. Which one works best? I can't seem to stay on the path of the string and it comes out jagged.

Brett, successful edging depends on two things:

  1. level ground between the turf and the infield skin
  2. frequent edging to keep it under control

A four wheel sod cutter works well the first couple times when you begin to renovate a field in disrepair.  A field like this often has a lip and the grass has overgrown the proper specs on a field diagram.  In a case like this the sod cutter does two things: take out the lip and edge the grass to spec.

Once you have a level ground between the turf and the infield skin, the sod cutter is a bit overkill for the job.  In fact if it is overused, it can actually cause some problems... low spots right at the grass edge.  Then you have the opposite of a lip - you have a dip.

So, once the ground is level, a motorized lawn edger might work.  The metal shield is designed to follow the edge of a sidewalk as the cutting  blade edges.  On a field, the metal shield doesn't have the edge of a sidewalk to follow.  It will float on top of the ground.  So, you run it next to your line.

Other options: hand edger with a wheel and cutter, flat edge spade shovel, weed eater (I've never tried that), spraying roundup on the grass that is past the edge (it dies and disintegrates - I've done this on a field where there was lots of grass and weeds past the edge and the dirt was too damp to use a tool), walk behind push edger.

The key is drawing a straight line and following it.  Use a string to mark the edge.  Follow it or spray paint over it leaving a line to follow.  As you repeat the edging, it gets better and neater.

My baseball dirt is just that.  Nothing but dirt.  How do I fix this?

Erinn writes in:
I have 3 little league fields that I have done dirt analysis on. All
3 consist of nothing but silt. How do I determine how much sand and clay to add?

Your analysis tells me that you have infields that are nothing but dirt. A field like this is usually either like flour dust and players lose their footing or it is hard as a rock and you get bad bounces.

Is that what you have? The other possibility is that the fields are completely made of clay. Many softball fields are like this. So, it is important to know what you have. If it is all clay, you add sand. If it is all silt, you add sand and clay. A way to tell: wet silt is like dark mud; wet clay is usually lighter in color, smoother and like creamy putty. Much of the soil in the Midwest and east US is high in clay content. Much of the soil in the west coast is high in sand content. But it varies.

I'll tell you two ways to fix this, and one more thing you should do first. Assuming it is all silt, here is the key to fixing it.

First, try to end up with a mix that is something like this: 30% clay, 45% silt, and 25% sand. And you want this mixture to be the top four inches. No need to go deeper than that. (Although some professional fields have almost no silt at all. They are 60% clay and 40% sand.)

Some facts about this project: There are 4200 square feet of infield skin or dirt area on the typical little league field with 60 feet between bases. A cubic yard spread 4 inches deep covers 81 square feet. 1 cubic yard spread 1 inch deep covers 324 square feet. Hey, this is a fun math problem.

OK. So we know how many square feet you are working with. Now, there are two ways to get a better infield mixture.

The first way to get a better infield is to dig out (4 inches deep) what you have and replace it with the right mix. This is more expensive, more work, but a real way to get the right baseball dirt mix.

A little league field with a grass infield needs about 50 yards of baseball mix 4 inches deep. A good baseball mix costs about $45 a yard. A cubic yard is about one ton. 50 yards would cost about $2500. You will need a bobcat or mustang to scrape and scoop out existing material. $300 a day to rent. You will need a dump truck to haul out the existing stuff. $300 a day to rent one... and you need a place to dump it. You need a large tractor (preferably with a tiller attachment) to spread the new mix and to pull a drag. $250 a day to rent. Then you need a small steam roller to flatten it. $200 a day to rent. You need helpers for this option. Estimated cost for this option - $3600.

The second way for you to get a better infield is to add other materials to what you have. Spread and mix it in. This is easier, cheaper, done more often, and you get a good result.

You need about 13 tons of sand and 13 tons of clay. (You need to spread both the sand and the clay 1 inch deep and till or mix it into the top 4 inches. Do not go lower or you are just wasting it.) A dump truck holds about that much. This would cost about $1200. You will need a tractor tiller to spread and mix it. $250 to rent for a day. Then use the small steam roller to flatten it. Another $200 a day to rent. You can do this job by yourself, but helpers are always nice to have. Estimated cost for this option - $1600.

Ways to cut costs: use a 100 pound lawn roller instead of the steam roller. It works, but this is a lot of work to pull around a field enough times to flatten out the dirt mix. If you have some helpers, this is an option. Put a couple young men on the job of pulling or pushing this around. These rent for $20 a day if you do not already have one. Some small little league projects like this can be ‘free’ if you get locals to donate the equipment and the mix.

So, we just looked at two ways to fix the infield mix. BUT, there is one more thing you should do first.

Go to your local landscape or rock supplier. Go to one with many different dirt, rock, and sand mixes. Take a couple sandwich baggies with you. Get separate samples of the sand, the clay, and what they call their baseball mix. Fill a sandwich bag up with each sample and put a twisty on it. Then go home and get two wide mouth glass jars to do a little test.

Put 2 inches of your existing infield dirt into a jar. Add 1 inch of the sand. Add 1 inch of the clay. Fill the jar with water. Shake it. Let it stand a couple hours. See what you end up with as far as layers of clay, silt, and sand. If you really have silt, you will see the three layers. If you really have clay, you will see two layers. This test confirms what you have and approximately what you end up with before doing the big job.

And the baggie with what they call baseball mix, do the jar test with that also just to see what it is made of. That way if you decide to go with all new infield mix, you can tell if it is the right mix or not. A lot of so-called baseball mix is just crushed brick and some sand. It looks nice when it is wet, but does not provide firm footing at all.

And here is some more reference material from my website:

A sample project improving the dirt mix on a softball field

Some hints and tips when correcting infield skin mix

Choices, decisions, tips, and mistakes to avoid on this project

A list of 6 ways to improve your baseball infield skin - these range from free, but short lasting to long lasting with a price to pay

Spring Maintenance Planning

When you use a ballpark audit checklist, you'll know exactly what your ball field condition is and exactly what you need to do to fix problem areas or prevent something from becoming a problem.

I've found that a checklist is the way to go.  It also shows me where the priority areas area: safety.  I'm sure you could make up your own checklist, or just go out and walk your entire field and take notes.


Yours for better play more often,

J. Reiner

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


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