‘Tune-Up’ Your Mound, For Pitcher’s Sake

It’s in the details…

Beacon AthleticsThere are numerous critical measurements and dimensions that a groundskeeper establishes and maintains on their ballfields. One measurement is under constant evolution: the front slope of the mound. It is worn down and built up on a regular basis. And when we finish our repair of the slope, we all hope that it is pretty much back to specification. The reality though is that as we repair it each time, the front slope is slowly evolving away from perfection. Eventually you will find yourself needing to perform a “tune-up” to the slope to get it back to proper specification.

This mound slope tune-up should be performed using a slope gauge in order to get the slope back to the specified 1″ of fall per foot of run away from the rubber. A slope gauge helps to expose where your high spots and low spots have developed on the front slope. Back in my MLB days, we used this tool once a month (or roughly every 14 home games or so) to ensure that our main mound and bullpen mounds were meeting Major League specs. Meanwhile, at the Little League level, we checked the mounds usually at the beginning of the spring/summer season and then again ahead of fall ball. If we had a chance, we performed mid-season checks, but that all depended on the time we had available during a very busy complex 7-days a week.

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Just scratching the surface…

Beacon Iron RakeUsing a slope gauge is so simple, yet so critical in order to keep the mound in proper shape for the pitching staff. I like to scratch into the surface of the mound where I make each measurement to indicate how high or low I am so that when I remove the gauge to make the adjustments, it is scratched on the surface. For high spots, I’ll use a sharpened iron rake or a scuffle hoe to cut them down. Where I’m low, I will use our DuraEdge Mound clay — instead of the spoils I have scratched off the top of the mound clay — to ensure a nice tight bond with the existing mound.

Not only is the slope gauge effective at measuring for proper slope on the surface of the pitching mound, it is also a great tool to have if you are building a new mound and are going to use unfired clay bricks to build the front landing slope. You can use the gauge to measure your sub-grade onto which you will lay the brick. That sub-grade’s slope must perfectly match that of the finished mound. Therefore, use the gauge to establish that subgrade. Simply adjust the depth by adding to it the thickness of the brick that you are installing.

A periodic “tune-up” to your mound slope will keep your pitchers humming along on cruise control and help reduce the potential for injury due to an inconsistent pitching surface.

Paul Zwaska (contributor)

A former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Paul has been a frequent contributor to Beacon’s Ballfield Blog and other resources and products. Among other contributions to Beacon, he authored Groundskeeper University, the pioneering online ballfield maintenance training venue.