Robert P. Miller Park is only a few miles from the beach in Delray Beach, Florida, but you might think you’re in Red Sox Nation since the field features a replica of the Fenway Park’s famous left-field wall, the Green Monster. For that reason, the park has become known throughout the country as one of the more notable high school sports venues.
In April’s issue of SportsField Management, groundskeepers for minor league baseball clubs all over the country share their take on infield and pitcher’s mound maintenance. The staffs at these fields work day in and day out to ensure that conditions are perfect during the offseason and beyond.
For Larry Hoskin, the superintendent of athletic fields at Elev|8 Sports Institute, it’s no different. An employee of the elite institution for high school students who wish to pursue a career in professional athletics, he also manages the public fields at Robert P. Miller Park, which are shared with the school.
“When outside teams come in and say, ‘That’s the nicest field we ever played on,’ it makes you feel good,” Hoskin says.
The baseball fields at Miller Park see lots of action. Baseball season starts early in South Florida, with high school teams starting practice in January and Little League in February. The fields are used by the local public high school, little leagues, recreation leagues, camps and the students at the Elev|8 Sports Institute throughout the year.
That’s a lot of wear and tear for a couple of baseball fields, so proper preseason preparation is imperative.
At the beginning of January, a large load of clay is delivered to the fields. This is spread and rototilled in by Hoskin’s team, who mixes it up with the old clay about 6 inches deep to break up compacted old clay.
On the major-league-sized fields, Hoskin uses Turface MVP, a premium infield calcined-clay conditioner.
“If you walk onto Yankee Stadium or Fenway, they would have Turface on their infields,” Hoskin says.
Turface prevents clumping, creates a smooth look, and also acts as a drying agent. Hoskin always keeps stock on hand in case a puddle or wet spot appears later in the season.
The pitcher’s mound is made of the same clay as the infield, but in front Hoskin cuts and fills in an area about 4 to 6 inches deep with Beam Clay. He gets it wet, tamps it and lets it dry in the hot Florida sun. After it hardens, he covers it up with more clay so it looks like the rest of the mound. This provides extra toughness in the areas where pitchers naturally place their feet.
Once the season starts, Hoskin’s team works from early in the morning until the afternoon to make sure the fields are taken care of. For him, the key is working the dirt.
“If I don’t get it wet, I can’t drag it and work it… the amount of water and moisture is a real key to working an infield in South Florida,” Hoskin says.
Maintenance throughout the season includes pressure cleaning of the lip where the clay meets the grass six times per year, replacing the Beam Clay every seven to 10 days and watering the fields every morning via a timed irrigation system before the crew arrives.
After 40-plus years in the baseball teaching business and 30-plus years working with fields, Hoskin says, the best part of his job is “taking pride in having the fields look as good as we can get them so kids [and] parents can enjoy them.”