One of the most crucial aspects for maintaining a safe and playable infield is moisture management, yet it is often the most overlooked part of a maintenance plan.
The goal of applying water to an infield is to achieve a corkboard feel. This will provide a fast and forgiving surface that will play true for athletes of all ages. The surface should be stable and firm, but also have a slightly spongy feel. Proper moisture management is the key to ‘cleat in, cleat out.’ A field should ideally allow your cleats to easily penetrate the infield skin without removing large chunks of the infield mix on their way out.
The most efficient method of water application on your infield is hand watering, although you could also use irrigation sprinklers with some caution and steady monitoring to avoid flooding. In order to hand water, we recommend using a 1″ UltraLite high pressure hose with a Kocheck multi-mist nozzle to control the amount of water that is being released. Because it can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour to water the infield, you should allow yourself sufficient time before the game starts to do so. If for some reason you have limited time to get the job done, your focus should be on the position and sliding areas.
Depending on the type of infield mix that is on the infield, you may need to water the field multiple times a day. Moisture management is important for the entire infield profile and not just the infield skin surface. That being said, prior to a game it is best to apply enough water to thoroughly soak the infield profile and saturate the dirt. Post game, it is best to do the deep watering at the end of the day so the field can be rest overnight. Remember-proper moisture is required throughout the entire profile, not just the top 1/2 inch. Every field is different and there are many factors including type of infield mix, amount of topdressing/conditioner, weather conditions, and geographical location that will affect the amount of water needed to properly maintain the infield.
Use of Topdressing/Conditioners & Drying Agents
There are two types of topdressings/conditioners available for use on baseball and softball infield skin surfaces. The first, calcined clay which is a montmorillonite clay that turns into a porous ceramic when fired. This porous ceramic acts as a tiny sponge making it very absorbent. The high absorbency is why this material is often used for drying a wet infield. Calcined clay comes in different particle sizes–the finer particle size products being used as drying agents and the coarser particle size products being used as conditioners or amendments. Expanded shale on the other side, is fired at a higher temperature creating a larger pore space in turn making it less absorbent. The less absorbent nature of expanded shale allows for more moisture to remain in the infield skin surface and profile. This material is lightweight but typically more dense and more durable than calcined clay products.
- As a rule of thumb, a 50/50 blend of expanded shale and calcined clay is recommended to start the season, especially during the late winter/early spring when soil conditions are typically more wet due to more prevalent rainfall. The mix allows for the right blend of moisture absorption and penetration.
- Additional expanded shale should be added during the dryer summer months or when water access is limited to help maintain in the infield skin surface and profile.
- The use of drying agents should be avoided if possible and only used in an “emergency” situation. These products must be removed as soon as possible from the infield skin surface otherwise the fine particle sizes will alter the soil profile of the infield over time.
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.
- 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 some calcined clay to absorb the water If using a drying agent or a super fine particle size, be sure to remove once the area is dry. Certain conditioners like ProDry you can use without needing to pick back up. You can also use a sponge to soak up the water, although this may remove some infield mix or topdressing as well.
- 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.
For additional information on these techniques, or to find out more about our products and services, feel free to contact a DuraEdge representative.
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