In the course of a year, I see quite a few ballfields in my travels. One of the things that catches my eye quite frequently is how loose an infield skin surface may be. So I thought it would be a good idea to go over some standard nail dragging rules and tips to keep people up to speed with proper nail dragging protocol.
First, let’s go over the equipment for nail dragging. A nail drag should be somewhat light in weight, like the Beacon Adjustable Weight Nail Drag System. You can always add more weight to the unit to get proper penetration into the infield skin. A nail drag that is constructed out of heavy materials does not give you as much control over penetration depth.
A nail drag should use nails as the scarifying tine, not bolts. Nails are preferred over bolts because they generally have a much smaller diameter than a bolt thereby leaving narrower furrows in the soil. Larger furrows in an infield soil can cause a washboard effect which can result in erratic travel of a ground ball across the skin surface.
When scarifying an infield with a nail drag, the nails should penetrate no deeper than the depth of a cleat. For metal cleats that means about a 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep. If you loosen your infield any deeper, you are compromising player traction. Additionally, that excessive loose material will cause the ball to take unusual bounces as the loose soil absorbs the ball’s energy causing the ball to stay down and not take the proper hops.
- Moist infield surfaces scarify more easily and effectively to a consistent depth than a dry infield
- Scarify the skin surface in two directions perpendicular to each other to insure a smooth playing surface
- Just like when float dragging, keep your speed slow but consistent, especially when turning
- If rain is expected, forgo scarifying if possible and keep the surface tight by just float dragging it
- Use a hand nail drag (X-Drag) to scarify along the edges and up-and-down the 1st & 3rd baselines
One of the most important jobs a baseball-softball groundskeeper has is maintaining the infield skin. This includes not only keeping it smooth and playable, but also making sure there are no low or high spots that can negatively impact surface drainage of water off the infield skin. Nail dragging is just the start of this soil management program. Next time we’ll discuss the finish dragging portion of your infield skin management.
— Paul Zwaska is the former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles; You can learn more at Groundskeeper University