Designing and constructing a baseball field with maintenance in mind, as well as potential field users, will save time and money. Do your homework so that you cover all your bases.

Field dimensions

On most fields, where players are 13 years old or older, there’s basically one set of required measurements. That’s a standard major league baseball (MLB) diamond. The field layout is the set of official measurements, which is used by the governing bodies of higher division baseball. Below are the listings for finding that information on the official Web sites for those top levels:

•  For the professional and semiprofessional level—MLB: www.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/objectives_1.jsp

•  For the college/university level—National Collegiate Athletic Association: www.ncaa.org/library/rules/2007/2007_baseball_rules.pdf

•  For the high school level—National Federation of State High School Associations: www.nfhs.org/baseball

Mound height consistency

One area that needs to be addressed is the correct height of the mound. In 1969, major league baseball reduced the height of the mound from a maximum of 15 inches to the current level of 10 inches. A top-notch facility needs to measure this distance from the center of home plate to the center of the pitcher’s rubber by using a transit or other means for accuracy.

This is probably the number one groundskeeping problem: consistent mound heights between teams in the same town, league or association. In basketball, soccer, football and hockey, goal and height measurements are easy to measure since it’s done with a steel tape. The mound, however, is created by molding clay, which is exposed to rain and irrigation.

Since the mound is created with a pliable material, maintained daily and exposed to the elements, the correct measurements may change frequently. While it’s difficult to correctly measure without a transit, players deserve the extra effort to ensure consistency.

Photos by Steve Trusty.
Extend warning track material into the field-level dugout for easier cleanup.
Install a narrow strip of concrete under a chain-link fence for easier fence line maintenance.
Create pathways between the dugouts and home plate area to eliminate turf wear.

Field positioning

Field positioning is another key to having a successful facility since late afternoon and twilight games are quite common. Granted, most fields are aligned so traffic flow, utilities and sewage lines are more affordable, reducing the cost of constructing the facility, but keeping playability in mind during the planning process provides a better opportunity to meet both goals.

The best orientation is to design your field based on the path of the sun. To maintain ideal playing conditions, locate your field so that the pitcher is throwing across the sun. In addition, the field’s orientation should ensure that a batter standing at home plate would not be facing the sun. The angle of the sunrise should be east to northeast, with the setting sun falling west to southwest. The southern hemisphere will have the reverse setting due to the angle of the sunrise and sunset.

Another feature that needs to be considered before the final site is approved and early construction begins is the minimum dimensions due to a lack of sufficient space.

Two important distances are: the minimum distance from home plate to the backstop for the age level of field usage, and the recommended outfield fence distances for the age level of field usage. For example, high school dimensions—310 feet down the line and 365 feet to the center field fence—are too short for college, semipro and higher levels of competition.

There are various ways of addressing the different dimensions. The field can be designed for the upper level of usage, with appropriate alterations made, such as temporary fencing in the outfield, to accommodate different age levels. Remember, you can reduce distances within a playing field, but you can’t extend them if there’s no space to do so.

One feature that has proven successful in some metropolitan areas is the use of the extended upward fences and the use of netting to create longer home run distances.

Design to maintain

Architects can do a great job of designing fields to fit the needs of the community or school board. Every grounds-keeper or facility manager needs to be part of the decision-making process when designing and developing facilities. In fact, the biggest maintenance problem that I see across the country is inheriting problems that have been created by design personnel. Often, the product lacked maintenance input and the follow-up budget dollars to care for the facility after its completion. As a result, the quality of the fields quickly deteriorated.

As groundskeepers and facility managers, we sometimes get into the mode of being victims of doing certain tasks because they have always been done this way, and that’s the way the book says to do it. Since 1838, when Alexander Cartwright designed the first diamond with distances and dimensions, we have been under the spell of following those specific guidelines.

The only two items that Alexander Cartwright did not want to change are: the 90 feet to the bases that create the ball “diamond” and the distance of 60 feet 6 inches from the pitching rubber to the plate. There are many innovative changes to the norm that can be adopted without altering the distances that are the common denominator of all upper level diamonds.

Consider incorporating some of these ideas other creative groundskeepers are using:

•  Alter the square corners of the base path with rounded edges, or adjust the turning areas at first base and third base with “teardrop” corners for easier and faster dragging.

• Install a narrow strip of concrete beneath a chain-link fence for easier fence line maintenance.

•  Use a ring of artificial turf around the pitcher’s mound instead of natural turf to cut turf wear.

•  Use a semicircular pad of artificial turf around the back of home plate to reduce skinned area maintenance.

•  Use a section of artificial turf for the coaching box to reduce natural turf wear.

•  Use artificial turf to create walkways for spectators or to replace natural turf in “outside the fence” viewing areas to reduce turf wear.

•  Use all grass baselines instead of infield dirt to reduce skinned area maintenance time.

•  Create pathways between the dugouts and home plate to eliminate continual turf wear and resodding.

•  Extend the warning track material into the field-level dugout for easier cleanup.

•  Use strips of nonskid rubber for the fair line to cut field lining time.

Challenge your crew to come up with other innovative ideas that fit your specific facility design and field use patterns. Every step you take to reduce maintenance time and improve aesthetics increases the overall effectiveness of your field management program.

Floyd Perry travels throughout the United States and abroad conducting Groundskeepers Management Workshops. He is the author of four books.