The player with a winning baseball field - part 1

Baseball Fields Gone Bad

In part 1 of the player with a winning baseball field we started to follow a young man from childhood to his MLB tryout.

little league pitcher

Now I mentioned that the last thing I want is a ball-field-induced injury to cause a promising player to be discouraged and hang up the spikes. That is just so sad. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I want to tell you about this young man’s injury at age 13.

And I’ll tell you six other horror stories readers have shared with me. These are stories of baseball fields gone bad that have caused injuries, aches, broken hearts, and wasted time and money. I won’t leave you hanging with these though. I’ll also tell you how to fix these problems.

1. The bad hop that dashed his dream.

So, back to the young man. In little league he was usually one of the smaller players on the field. He had a heart on fire for baseball, but when it came to all-star selections each year, he was skipped over. “Not big enough,” they said. Well at age 13 he was finally starting to grow a bit. Still not one of the big players, but by now his skill at shortstop, pitching, and hitting was showing that he was indeed a good player.

His dream was to make an all star team. Now the rules for making an all star team include this stipulation: a player must play in more than half the games his team plays. Sounds easy enough. Until the injury dashed his hopes.

About half way through the season his team traveled to a baseball field that had an all dirt infield. It was full of stones and pebbles and some ruts. While attempting to field a sharply hit grounder at short the ball took a wicked hop at the last moment. It hit his throwing hand dead on directly at his ring finger and split it wide open. There was so much blood. Yikes.

Well, he got it wrapped up and sat out the rest of the game. Turned out though this injury was not going to heal fast. And it was his throwing hand. As misfortune would have it, by the time he was able to play again, and not very well at that, he was not able to play enough games to be an all-star. This was extremely disappointing for him.

Here are six more stories of baseball fields gone bad.
I’ll also tell you what you can do to prevent this from happening to your players.

2. The bad bullpen mound disables a pitcher.

bad bullpen mound

Infield mounds are hard enough to keep in good shape. Bullpens are worse.

So, here we have a very bad bullpen used by 15-16 year olds. Turns out a right handed pitcher while warming up on this poor excuse of a mound strained his left hamstring and was not able to play for 10 days.

I’d actually suggest that if the bullpen is this bad, just warm up on flat ground. It is safer.

Resources for you: Here’s some tips to maintain your mound in tip top shape:
The best way to tamp your baseball mound

Using clay bricks to reinforce the mound
Video: how to install clay mound bricks

Maintaining your baseball field mound
Avoid the most common mistakes with your mound

3. The bad infield lip that stopped a baseball career.

The player with this next injury took over a year to really heal. He was a junior and his high school team traveled 63 miles away to play a school in a small town. He was an infielder and the third man in the pitching rotation.

The infield grass edge all around third base had a lip. A very big, bad, 3-4 inch lip. It was a combination of dirt buildup at the grass as well never adding new infield dirt and just dragging the infield to death.

This player was a fielder at 3B that game and charged a slowly hit ball down the line. He hit the edge of the lip with his right foot. His ankle rolled over so badly he crumpled to the ground. He somehow finished the game, but once he sat still for the ride home, his ankle swelled so bad he was hardly able to walk.

He actually had to use an ankle brace for the next year to compete in sports. That’s painful. This player was also a pitcher. He never was able to get back his pitching form and he had a mediocre senior year.

He tried out for the baseball team at a local junior college, but didn’t make the cut. Lack of ability. But also perhaps a player derailed by an injury that didn’t have to be.

Resources for you: Here’s some tips to keep your dirt / grass edge in top shape:
Fixing lip buildup on your baseball field
How to remove lip build up with a steam roller
blast out dirt with water and remove lip build up
Video: Prevent lip buildup on your field

4. The bad fence that almost killed a boy.

This was one of those really scary injuries.

This happened at a little league field with a chain link outfield fence. An 11 year old outfielder went back on a fly ball. He hit the fence as he caught the ball. Then he went down. He got up on his knees and grabbed his neck and then went down again. He didn’t move. As coaches ran out they were in shock to see how much blood was all over this player’s face and uniform.

Turns out the fence had wire hooks to hold the chain link fencing to the metal poles. One of the hooks was not turned under. It was sticking straight out about three inches. This player impaled himself on that with his throat. Missed his aorta by about half an inch. It could have been deadly.

Resources for you: Prevent field injuries like this by doing a field inspection:
Ballpark inspection checklists

5. Adding dirt in ignorance. More is better, right?  Wrong!

This father thought he was doing he right thing, but only made it worse.

There’s a softball field in Scotts Valley, California. Now a softball field normally has a hard surface for good bounces. But not his one. It was a field made of mostly crushed red brick. It looked nice and was easy to smooth with a drag. But players lost footing easily and the foot marks made for erratic hops.

Here’s what happened.

The second baseman took a bad hop right in the throat. Fell to the ground gasping for air. Game over for him. The powers that be were concerned about the field conditions that caused this. So they immediately ordered 20 more tons of the crushed red brick to spread all over the field.

This sounds good in theory but it misses one important element of field management – the infield dirt must provide firm footing for players and a firm surface for true and consistent bounces. The result was an even worse condition. Players were practically wading in 6 inches of loose crushed red brick. The powers that be didn’t understand that.

Plus we know that the focus on improving the level of playing conditions should never be on the quick fix. It must be on the needs of the player.

Resources for you: Got a field that is too loose?– check here for ways to firm up your field:
Adding brick dust to your field - dialog with a head coach
Six ways to firm up infield mix that is too loose
Correcting dirt mix on your ball field

6. Gopher hole meets player’s knee. Gopher wins!

You might recognize this quick story. Many years ago a pretty good high school player had his playing career cut short because of a bad field. As a senior playing in his last high school game of the year, he was running home from second base, rounded third, and hit a gopher hole. His right leg was in shooting pain. Anything that could rip did. He’d have been better off breaking his leg than what he ended up with.

Back then, arthroscopic surgery wasn't mainstream yet - he had his knee totally opened, fixed, and sewed up. He was in a cast for 3 months and limped for 2 years. End of the baseball dream for him.

What can you do? One step in the turf maintenance includes putting out top dressing and dragging it with a metal mesh drag. This levels and flattens out ruts and holes including old gopher holes.

Resources for you: Need to level or flatten a lumpy, bumpy field?  Check these:
Six ways to level baseball field turf and infield dirt
Leveling truckloads of dirt you add to the infield
Keep your base path from turning into a trough

7. Bad mound changes pitcher's mechanics – pitcher loses mph and playoff game.

Players often don’t realize it till it is over. Making all stars or going to the playoffs is not something everyone gets to experience. You’d like it to be something where, win or lose, you know you gave it your best.

Here’s what happens. A good team with a great pitcher makes it to the playoffs.

The team travels to a different field. The mound is not anything like his home field mound. Too flat. Too steep. No table top at the back. Massive hole in the front. The pitcher starts to think about it too much. He can’t help it. It affects his play. He tries to change his delivery to accommodate the mound. It changes his pitching motion. He looses velocity and / or pitch control.

Last year I saw a 10 year old travel across town for a tournament of champions game. The field mound had nothing behind the rubber. It was a straight down drop off instead of a table top. Now this pitcher stepped backwards to get momentum when he pitched. Not here. So, he had to go slower with a different delivery. He threw slower. Still accurate, but you can guess what happens when you serve up meatballs to batters.

Same thing happened to a 17 year old high schooler. Traveled to a field where the field mound had nothing behind the rubber. He also liked to step back as he began his delivery. By making an adjustment for this horrible mound he lost his pin-point control. And his team lost the game.

Resources for you: Keeping your mound in shape:
The best way to tamp your baseball mound

Using clay bricks to reinforce the mound
Video: how to install clay mound bricks

Maintaining your baseball field mound
Avoid the most common mistakes with your mound

And this idea from the plate ump in Atlanta. Thank you.  You can build a frame like this that you place on the pitching rubber so you know where the table top should be:

.mound table top template

mound specs


So, there you have it.

Players are affected when baseball fields go bad.

As sort of a P.S. to all of this, the young man in our story was loosing his dream to play pro ball after the injury to his finger caused him to miss out on all stars. His dad got the inspiration and motivation going again by taking this young man to a SF Giants game. They were able to go out on the field during batting practice and see the players in the dugout. The young man got his dream back.

In the next article the young man begins his high school career. While the team was loaded with talent, the baseball field that was really in bad shape - not a single grounder bounced straight. It was beyond belief. We’ll find out how this was fixed.

Note: I started this website and eventually put together the baseball field maintenance handbook for the players you just read about. You owe it to yourself and your players to check this out now.

Jim Reiner