How do we properly deal with these fluctuations in weather that spring brings to the table?
Start at the Foundation
As always, the proper infield mix is vital to having a safe and playable playing surface. Engineered soils provide the correct ratio of sand, silt, and clay for your level of play—aiding in maintenance and moisture management. Who you are determines where your soils levels should be and what you should do to balance your base soil. Making sure you have a properly installed, balanced base soil with an SCR between 0.5-1.0 will ensure a sturdy foundation. Just as sand, silt, and clay are necessary to make a good infield mix, proper grading for positive surface drainage, moisture management, and maintenance/grooming are all critical no matter the infield mix. Putting your infield to bed in the Fall will allow for an easier foundation to work with once Spring weather rolls around. It’s important to stay ahead of the curve and not just plan season to season.
During Spring, if you can get on the field prior to a weather event, it’s important to check the moisture in the infield. If the infield is dry and loose, the rain can make the loose surface turn into wet slop and, depending on the slope, can accelerate the chance of erosion and runoff. Although it may seem contrary, keep moisture in the infield so that it maintains a firm and stable surface. Dragging the infield with a rigid steel drag mat will help seal off the surface, but again, make sure there is some moisture in the surface otherwise it will not seal. The goal is to produce a strong infield surface that can withstand the elements, don’t do anything too abrasive like nail dragging or opening up the infield prior to any weather event.
Rolling the infield will also help pack it in and seal it off. At a minimum, it’s recommended to roll the position areas, baselines, base cutouts, and home plate circle. Again, make sure there is enough moisture in the infield to obtain the proper compaction. This compaction will also help in the Spring since your infield will have gone through a series of freeze/thaw cycles causing the soil to loosen/soften up. It is important to note when it comes to rolling, that although there needs to be moisture in the infield for proper compaction, too much moisture can be troublesome. If material is sticking to your shoes or water becomes present in the footprints, then the infield is too soft to roll.
It’s important to check your edges to make sure there is a smooth transition into the turf and there isn’t a lip developing so that surface water can exit the field. Remember, a proper slope of an infield is designed to allow water to exit—the formation of lips, undulations, or substantial low areas can stop this natural process. Low areas will develop from time to time during the playing season however, it’s just imperative that they are not left untreated and any standing water is removed properly. Some field renovations or laser grading might be necessary if these issues persist.
Also important prior to a weather event, is to tarp your pitching area and home plate. If it’s a substantial weather event, tarp the entire infield skin surface. This will increase your chance of playing soon after the rain event ends.
Applying the Right Topdressing/Conditioner
There are two types of topdressings/conditioners available for use on infield skin surfaces. Calcined Clay is a montmorillonite clay that is fired at approximately 1400 degrees in a rotary kiln. Firing the clay at a lower temperature causes the particles to become very porous. This porous ceramic acts as a tiny sponge making it very absorbent. Calcined Clay absorbs excess water during wet conditions and eliminates water from the surface to prevent fields from flooding. Expanded Shale is fired at a higher temperature of over 2000 degrees, making it less absorbent. The less absorbent nature of expanded shale allows for more moisture to flow through to the base material. This will keep needed moisture to remain in the infield skin surface and profile.
For Spring, it is best to use both calcined clay and expanded shale together to get the perfect blend of base moisture and surface absorption. 50/50 or 60/40 is recommended, depending on the need for surface absorption. Using a combination before and after a weather event will help keep your infield responsive to wet conditions. A DuraEdge representative can help determine the best combination to fit your needs & recommend the proper absorption percentage based on your environment & time of year.
Standing Water Removal
It is not uncommon for a low area to develop from time to time during the season. If these low areas go unaddressed then it is likely for standing water to accumulate in the event of rain.
Below are some common mistakes when it comes to standing water removal:
- Getting on the Field too Early: Be cautious of getting on the field too soon. If the infield is too wet to walk on the infield mix will stick to your shoes and/or you will see deep footprints. If this happens, you should wait until the area surrounding the standing water is dry before returning onto the field. If you can’t walk on it, you can’t work on it!
- Using Tools: It is not recommended to use tools to disperse the standing water. Dispersing the water with rakes or brooms will put you at risk of creating lips and the potential of creating additional low (or high) spots.
- Cutting Trenches: Cutting trenches to allow the water to flow off the infield is also not recommended. Though it may seem like a quick fix, doing this will also remove your infield mix and topdressing/conditioner as it travels with the water.
So what should you do? First you should identify whether it is a small or large volume of standing water.
- If it is a small area: You can add a high absorbent calcined clay like ProDry to absorb the water without compromising the integrity of your infield skin. Drying agents can be used in emergency situations to quickly remove water, but remember to remove the drying agent once the area is dry. You can also use a sponge to soak up the water.
- If it is a larger area: You can use a hand pump or a small electrical pump to pump the water into buckets to be taken off the field. Once the area is dry, remove the topdressing/calcined clay and add infield mix to the area so that water does not collect in the area in the future.
- If the area of standing water is large or an entire baseline/section of infield: You may want to consider it time to either repair the baseline, prepare to laser grade, or renovate your field completely.
When the Right Thing to Do is to Do Nothing
Dealing with spring weather, especially coming out of winter with freeze / thaw cycles, requires a totally different approach than being able to play quickly after a summer rain event. In most cases, coaches and upper management expect to see much effort and action on the field trying to force it to be playable, but it is important not to get on the field too soon. Sometimes infields will be too wet to work on. If the infield mix is sticking to your shoes and you’re leaving deep footprints, walk away and let the infield dry. If this is the case on gameday, sometimes it’s unfortunately necessary to cancel. Playing on a field that is too wet is not only dangerous to the player, but it can negatively affect the playability of the infield for the entire season. Patience is the #1 best practice for getting your infield skin to come around under these conditions. The approach should be clear and concise communication with the Coach or those running your facility as to why in their mind you are doing nothing.
One of the common things I hear said during these times is “Well, we have to do something.” My argument is, don’t “do something,” do the right thing. And sometimes the right thing is to do nothing. – Patrick Coakley
Even properly formulated and installed infield mixes will degrade if not appropriately maintained and regularly groomed. It’s imperative to stay up to date with infield maintenance and to follow proper grooming techniques so you’re ready before, during, and after a weather event. Maintenance is a process, not an event.