The greatest advancement within this product category is the increased focus on scientific analysis to identify existing field conditions and develop the best solutions to resolve field issues. A key area of focus is the silt-to-clay ratio (SCR), according to Grant McKnight, president of Natural Sand.


Hand raking from small piles provides even distribution of this Turface calcined clay conditioner.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TURFACE ATHLETICS.

“It’s derived by dividing the percentage of silt by the percentage of clay in a soil sample. The SCR score indicates the relative performance of an infield soil product. The optimum SCR score for playability is 0.5 to 1,” he explains.

Research and development

Most suppliers of infield materials note that research and development is ongoing, seeking products that will make the field manager’s job easier in areas such as reduced maintenance, enhanced safety and playability, better aesthetics and fewer weather-related issues. They’re analyzing scientific data in areas like sand and silt sizing and material additives as related to infield performance.

“Their dream list helps, too,” says Charlie Vestal, business manager for Turface Athletics. “Our Turface ProLeague Red conditioner was developed because of requests for a true red. Once we found a way to create a permanent true red color without compromising the conditioning characteristics of Turface, we could supply specialty colors too. Our Heritage Red, introduced in August 2010, was born in response to a request from Larry DiVito, head groundskeeper for the Minnesota Twins, for a conditioner to match the color of his infield mix at Target Field. In use, it shows less visual contrast between wet and dry material, giving a more consistent look throughout a game.”


Ready Play’s Field Magic is being used in this mound build.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF READY PLAY.

McKnight applies his construction materials background to a three-step process Natural Sand calls engineered soil technology (E.S.T.). He says, “A soil sample from the existing infield mix is analyzed for sand, silt and clay levels by an independent lab. We review the data to assess the sand content and silt-clay ratio. We confer with the field manager to determine the level and frequency of play, water availability, resources for maintenance and current field problems. We then develop a custom, field-specific amendment that we call Field Saver that is worked into the current infield material. It permanently modifies the soil structure to improve playability. The amendment option can be spread over two or three years to reduce annual costs.” The company also produces additional infield products including a wide range of infield mixes for new installations.

Ready Play Sports introduced Field Magic last September. Andy Larned, national sales and marketing manager, says, “Field Magic is a super-absorbent sand, developed under a patented process, whose advanced technology greatly increases water-holding capacity, prevents soil erosion, lowers frequency of watering and irrigation, and is biodegradable and nontoxic. Originally developed for the horticultural market, we’ve brought it to sports fields as a moisture management product for a wide variety of applications. For infields, it reduces surface hardness by allowing greater moisture-holding capacity. Clay Wood used it in the Oakland A’s training facility in Phoenix at Papago Park at our recommended rate of 120 pounds per 1,000 square feet. It’s applied with a spreader, tilled into the top 3 inches of infield mix, rolled, irrigated and is ready to play. Wood reported it greatly cut his watering time.”

Infield mixes

Beam Clay regional infield mixes are blended for every state and climate from bulk plants nationwide. Jim Kelsey, president of Partac Peat Corp. says, “In our infield mixes, we keep fine sands and silt to a minimum. While our spec allows 0 to 10 percent silt, we keep silt as low as possible, generally around 3 to 4 percent. Silt worsens drainage in wet weather, worsens compaction in dry weather, and consequently requires more use of infield conditioners to keep an infield playable. Also, silt separates, becomes dusty, causes wind and water erosion, and consequently causes the infield to wear out more quickly. Also, our sand is predominately in the .25-1-mm range for better drainage.


Waupaca Sand & Solutions’ mobile infield mix production equipment at work.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WAUPACA SAND & SOLUTIONS.

Southern Athletic Fields offers Mar Mix Infield Mix with the ratios of clay and sand adjusted to match the time and resources a facility has to maintain their fields. They also supply MuleMix conditioners and SAF Coat topdressing. President Bill Marbet says, “Along with most of the producers of quality infield mixes, we’re stressing the huge role sand particle size plays in the performance of the infield. Sand that is too fine compacts too much, making the infield like concrete. Sand that is too large doesn’t compact enough, making the infield more like beach sand. Proper sand sizing is a key part of all of our mixes.”

Waupaca Sand & Solutions creates infield mixes with custom ratios of silt, sand and clay. Dena DiVincenzo, business development manager, says, “Previously, we’d only provided custom mixes in the Midwest, but have now invested in some mobile processing equipment that allows us to expand to other areas. We do extensive testing while developing the specifications, sourcing the raw materials and while we’re creating the mix. We can use that data to duplicate the mix as needed.”

Game Time Sports Systems has a licensing partnership with Hillerich & Bradsby Co.’s Louisville Slugger brand that has resulted in a line of patented mixes and ASTM-approved products. These include four types of calcined clay infield conditioner, regionally blended infield mixes, and mound and batter’s box clay in bagged and brick forms.

Darrin Stern, managing director, says, “Our infield mixes are developed in a proprietary way that is very cost effective. Ingredients are adjusted based on the indigenous makeup of the regional material and can be added during the blending process or tilled in during the installation.”


Tom Burns compares the color and particle size of Diamond Pro’s calcined clay products for attendees at a field maintenance forum.
PHOTO BY STEVE TRUSTY.

Mar-Co Clay injects conditioner into each ton of infield mix they produce, according to president Ron Martin. “Mar-Co can guarantee water management on every job due to the amount of conditioner,” he says. “Our mixes minimize rainouts and also provide water retention in dry conditions. Each product is engineered with a designed balance which does not require or even desire the addition of other conditioners.”

Clay Hubbs, Stabilizer Solutions’ director of operations, says, “Research in soil and moisture interaction has uncovered that, at a 4 to 12 percent moisture content, groundskeepers can take advantage of natural moisture binding by surface tension forces of attraction. So an infield’s ideal moisture content for play is a ‘damp soil consistency.’ If the infield mix particle size is already matched for the level of play, the only concern should be achieving that 4 to 12 percent ideal moisture content. That’s easier said than done when dealing with rain, heat and doubleheaders.”

Stabilizer Solutions has focused its research on the interaction of water and soil particles over the last 30 years. With the company’s most recent breakthrough, “waterless” Hilltopper Infield Mix, soil particles are coated with a cohesive polymer molecule. The polymer provides the soil particles with the same amount of cohesion that damp soil tends to have. Hubbs says, “This solves the moisture content problem as the polymer coating repels any surface water from rain. It eliminates rainouts and infield freezing, allowing earlier spring field use for teams in cold-weather climates.”

Conditioners

Tom Burns brings years of hands-on groundskeeping experience, including with MLB’s Texas Rangers, to his role as sales/professional consultant for Diamond Pro/TXI. “There are so many variables involved in finding solutions,” says Burns. “The infield materials, weather patterns, degree of use and maintenance capabilities all come into play.”


Ready Play’s Field Magic in the spreading stage of the installation process at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF READY PLAY.

With the many amendments offered as infield conditioners, field managers need to be informed consumers. Field consultants recommend comparing key factors impacting product capabilities, including stability, longevity, porosity, water absorption rate and bulk density to determine which will fit their needs. Then factor in use rate recommendations to accomplish what is needed and compare pricing based on that. Burns says, “Diamond Pro has both calcined and the vitrified materials to offer a wider range of options.”

Calcined clay products were initially used to eliminate rainouts. With the increased emphasis on soil science, they’re now viewed as moisture management tools. Calcined clay products are offered in multiple particle sizes by most suppliers. That may be geared to aesthetics or to a specific use, such as uniformity for sliding.

Many field managers use too much material when trying to dry out puddles quickly. Burns says, “For better results, put down enough material to lightly cover the puddle and allow it to wick up the moisture. Repeat the process if necessary.”

Mound products

Burns says, “When it comes to mounds, pitchers feel a firm or soft landing area impacts their throwing style and will be pretty vocal on which they prefer. Those preferences should also be a consideration in selecting the type of mound clay.” He points to the results of the Virginia Tech study, “Quantitative and Qualitative Comparison of Baseball Mound Clays.” The research put four companies’ products to the test on pitchers’ preferences as well as installation and maintenance issues. It provided a direct comparison in controlled conditions with detailed reports on performance that could help guide field managers to the best choice for their program.

Diamond Pro offers a premoistened Home Plate/Mound Clay and one that comes dry in the bag. For the dry clay, the field manager adds the water to reach the desired moisture level, so additional time and labor are required for installation. Burns says, “The dry material was used in the Virginia Tech study. It provides a firm surface for the people who like the high clay content, want to do the intense management, and have tarping capabilities. It showed little wear throughout the study, with only a small amount of additional product required for reworking. Six of the 14 pitchers selected it as their favorite.”


A Beam Clay infield under the lights at Joseph Bruno Stadium, home of the Tri-City ValleyCats.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAM CLAY.

Turface Professional Mound Mix was also evaluated. Brand manager Jeff Langner says, “It’s a premoistened, shredded clay, ready for use right out of the bag. That fits the needs of most parks and recreation, youth league and school programs. It’s in the soft landing category, yet has the plasticity to provide good footing and wear resistance.”

Companies offering premoistened mound clay generally offer the same material in brick form for those who prefer that method of installation. With all the options, there’s a good fit for any program.

Suppliers urge field managers to focus on the science to select the best materials for specific field and program needs and tailor the maintenance program to moisture management. As Langner says, “All products are tools, not magic dust.”