BlackStick: The Evolution of Black Gumbo Packing Clay

WRITTEN BY: LUKE YODER

Black gumbo packing clay has been available in our industry for many years. The resiliency of the Gumbo Clay has proven itself at the highest levels in professional baseball. When installed properly and maintained with ideal moisture, the gumbo clay provides a surface where players can get a good grip and establish footing without leaving large holes. It has been implemented as a best practice for over 20 years at the highest levels of the game.

The major drawback with this Gumbo Clay was that it required much time and effort for the end user to prepare into a workable form. The clay was packaged in a hard and dry state, with chunks of clay ranging from softball size down to marble size. Each grounds crew had their own methods for the preparation process, such as: dumping the clay on a paved surface and crushing it with a heavy roller, trying to force it thru a 4 mesh screen, running it thru a mechanical soil shredder, and even trying to run the material through a wood chipper—which in many cases destroyed the chipper. After the chunks were broken down, moisture had to be added, which involved either putting the clay into a cement mixer while adding water, or dumping the screened clay on a paved surface, adding water, and raking to mix moisture in—repeating this process over and over until desired moisture content was achieved. For most grounds crew members, this was their least favorite job—aside from maybe an early morning tarp pull. Regardless of the painful prepping process, the result was a premium product that had superior performance in high traffic areas, compared to any other clay known in our industry.        

Through sheer determination and innovation, DuraEdge stepped up to provide a solution that would eliminate the timely and cumbersome in-house prep process. Groundskeepers typically would prepare a couple bags at a time for a game, or maybe more for a homestand. With BlackStick, however, this step is done for you. DuraEdge can prepare several hundred tons of material per batch. After the clay is dried out in the sun, it is crushed down to size using large equipment and screened down to ¼” minus. Next the finely screened clay runs down a conveyer belt where it passes under precisely calibrated nozzles for the hydration process. There is a very fine line for too much or not enough moisture, so this step is very closely monitored by our in-house engineer, Kurt Mershimer, prior to the finished product being packaged. There is no doubt that this has brought joy to many end users allowing them to eliminate their painful preparation process—now taken out of their maintenance program forever.   

The dirty, time consuming, and rigorous work to prep the clay is no longer required by grounds crews from coast to coast. Now, material can be supplied that is ready to use right out of the bag. Groundskeepers that were already using the Black Gumbo can make an immediate switch and shift hours and labor towards fine tuning other areas of their field. Since not everybody has a Big-League crew sitting around during the game with time to prep clay, most end users were not able to implement Gumbo Clay into their program. Finally, many more end users can now provide a significant improvement to the highest traffic areas of their field, and moving forward, reduce the amount of product and time by >50%. Everyone that has implemented the processed Black Gumbo into their best practices has seen R.O.I. within the first year.

The result of a properly prepared Black Gumbo clay will allow more groundskeepers to provide a safer, more consistent playable surface for Pitcher’s, Catcher’s, and Batters—the areas of the playing surface that receive the highest activity on the field per square foot. It also allows for the end user to be more effective, efficient, and economical when it comes to managing this part of their operation by saving countless hours in prep time or the need to invest in expensive equipment to prepare the material. 

old form of black gumbo on floor, new processed form in hand

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