To Clay or Not To Clay?

That is the question, and we have answers to help you make the decision whether to add a clay base to high wear areas.

Do you have access to water on your field? That’s the first question you should ask. Pure clay, when used on a ballfield, is a material that must be kept moist at all times to retain its desirable levels of firmness and footing. It should be kept at the consistency of modeling clay – pliable and moldable, yet not wet and sloppy, and definitely not too dry. If it is allowed to dry out completely, like during the late days of summer, it will get very hard and possibly begin to crack or chip away. This can create a very dangerous situation for players. Without access to water on the field, clay is not a good option under these circumstances.

Secondly, what are the maintenance capabilities of the field? Is there a full-time grounds crew that can monitor and adjust moisture levels in the clay? Or is the “grounds crew” a couple of parent/coaches that help in their spare time? Clay is a high-maintenance product – make no mistake about it. Between managing moisture and making daily repairs, clay is a demanding surface that you must be prepared to put time towards in order to achieve the desired outcome. If those demands are not unrealistic for you, then clay may be the way to go. If it sounds a bit out of your league, it probably is, and your best bet is to go with a rubber or artificial mat.

Without a doubt, there are many advantages to using pure clay in the pitching mound and batters boxes – but it’s not necessarily for every field in every situation. It is true that clay can be the optimal surface for a ballplayer to play on, but if not maintained properly, it can also be the worst. Think carefully about your situation, do some research, and make an educated decision. And if you like, contact the experts at Beacon Athletics.

Paul Zwaska

A former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Paul has been with Beacon for more than two decades. Among his many accomplishments he authored Groundskeeper University, the first online ballfield maintenance training venue. Paul continues to seek innovative ways to help groundskeepers.