Spring is just around the corner. Coaches will be begging to get onto their baseball and softball fields as soon as they are snow-free. You also want to be opening your ballfields as soon as possible. What is a groundskeeper to do to get his or her fields dry and playable as quickly as possible?
HERE ARE 6 TIPS for those in the northern climate who are up against the calendar to get their fields going as quickly as possible …
Wait till the field has lost all frost in the soil profile before attempting any work on the skin portion. If it’s too soft to walk on, you nor anyone else should be on it. The field may look bone dry in the early morning, but as the sun heats the surface the infield skin can become a quagmire as the frost in the ground prevents the free water on the surface from draining through. You’ll know when the frost is out of the ground as the infield skin portion will drain fairly quickly and begin to dry off on the surface in the afternoon sun and wind.
Once it’s dry enough for equipment, roll the infield. If your field is in the northern part of the country where you get a decent depth of frost each year (3″ or more), Mother Nature’s freeze-thaw cycle has naturally aerated your soils and opened up a tremendous amount of pore space in the soil profile. This slows your infield skin from rapidly recovering after a rain event. By rolling the infield skin surface once it has dried enough to get equipment on it, you drastically reduce the pore space in the infield surface which seals the field back up so water will run off the field more efficiently.
Clean up any winter lip build-up. Fields without snow cover this past winter were at the mercy of the winds of winter. The strong winds can blow soil, drying agents and topdressing materials into the lips of the infield skin. These lips are natural dams impeding water from moving off your infield skin surface. Be sure to clean or edge out all lips to allow water to freely drain off the surface of the infield skin.
Make sure the surface of the skin is smooth and level. Fall is actually the best time to re-level your infield skin so there are no low spots in the skin which will collect water. This exercise best prepares your field(s) for rapid water removal in the spring. If it wasn’t regraded last fall, go out to the field right after a rain while there are still puddles on the infield skin and, using a rake, carve the outline of each puddle. When dry enough, nail drag the infield avoiding the low spots so you can find them, then use a level board to cut down the high spots and fill the low areas to help the water move off the infield more effectively.
Keep some calcined clay drying agents around for those emergencies. But if the puddles are large or deep, then use Beacon Puddle Sponges or a Puddle Pump to remove excess water leaving just very shallow wet areas where drying agents can then work their magic.
Whatever you do, NEVER use brooms to sweep excess water off an infield. You will only be worsening the surface grade of the skin by sweeping more soil out thereby creating an even deeper hole for water to stand in. This will also build up the lips even worse creating a bigger dam along the edge.
These last few winters have been pretty tough ones in the eastern half of the country. They have delayed the onset of spring-like weather which has set many sports field managers back in opening their fields for the spring season. If the past few winters have taught us anything, it is to always put your ballfields to sleep in the fall ready to play. You’ll find it will make your spring prep much easier and you can get the coaching staff and their team out on the fields much quicker.