Sports field managers know that the southern states have a slight advantage over other areas of the country, since frost and extreme winter weather do not affect their playing surfaces. With 85 percent of baseball and softball played on clay, most of our seasonal work applies to those areas.

Bermudagrass loves moisture. Clay surfaces retain rainfall and irrigation longer than soil, so the edges of both the softball crescent and infield turf edges are consistently infiltrated by horizontal runners. While these runners are continually removed in season, major reworking can be completed during pre-practice seasonal field preparation.

Photos by Floyd Perry.
Establish accurate lines with string lines, running from the back of third base through themiddle of second base.

Edging with a three-wheel Turfco Edge-R-Rite or a single-wheel Little Wonder creates a sharp edge. Operators can sight along the edge to sever the runners. If lip buildup is an issue, establish a string line to guide the cut and remove the turf edge contaminated with infield mix.

On baseball infields, run strings from the back of third base through the middle of second base to establish an accurate line. Establish accurate lines for all edges of the base path, working on both the infield and outfield turf line for a baseball field with infield turf. Use a push edger to cut under the runner. Then, use a broom rake to gather the cuttings into piles for removal. Recycle the bermuda runners by sprigging them into weak areas of existing turf on the field, or use them to start your own sod farm on an area with a soil profile matching that of the field. Plan to harvest the sod as needed to fill in weak spots or heavy wear areas.

After edging, use a power broom, rake or stream of water from a hose to eliminate any additional soil that may have built up on the turf over the months when no games were played.

The final part of grooming your infield turf edges is to drag your field in various directions. The condition of the infield skinned area will determine which types of drags to use. You may want to start with a nail drag if little work has taken place during the months when no games were played. Finish the grooming using a cocoa mat to remove small circles, etc., within the skinned area surface, and create an equal turf/clay balance.

If water on the infield skinned area is an issue due to off-season clay removal, first identify the extent of the problem. Major wet areas may be due to improper crowning or runoff from surrounding areas rather than wind erosion or other nature-related factors. If so, take steps to correct those issues prior to the start of seasonal play. If the budget allows, laser leveling the clay surface can create immediate water runoff due to a surface pitch.

When wet areas are confined to a few smaller areas of the infield, one way to easily solve the dilemma is to drill a series of 5-foot deep holes using an auger bit and power drill. When the holes are completed, fill them to the near top with Turface MVP. This will create a season-long drain and solve, overnight, water elimination.

Another area of preseason maintenance is the filling in of the batting practice area in front of the mound. Remeasure the mound to make sure it meets specifications, and make adjustments as needed to bring it into top condition. The roller used on the area repaired in front of the mound can also be used on the mound if it needs regrading and if clay bricks were incorporated in the reworking process. Both can be firmed and tightened at the same time and with the same implements.

Remeasure the mound to ensure it meets specifications.
 
Fill the holes to near the topwith Turface MVP to create achannel for water elimination. Use a broom rake to gather thebermudagrass runners removed byedging the turf along the infield skin.
 
Rolling the mound is one way to firm and tighten the surfacefollowing regrading.

The pre-practice season is an ideal time for topdressing, fertilizing, verticutting and overseeding the turf areas of the field. Walk the entire field prior to implementing these procedures to identify any trouble spots or high wear areas. Target any of these issues for correction during the multiple steps of these tasks to bring the field into top condition for play.

When budgets are limited and multiple fields need work, concentrate the turf management procedures on the areas of greatest need. If the outfields of the baseball and softball fields have been used as practice areas for soccer or football, focus efforts on repairing any compaction issues. Note the location of any problem areas to determine if they fall within the primary areas of play for softball or baseball. If so, consider replacing badly worn turf areas with thick-cut sod from your on-site sod farm, or from a local supplier.

Work with your staff to review the mowing program both leading up to, and during, the active use period. Plan for consistent mowing at the designated height and predetermined intervals with the mowing direction varied regularly.

This pre-practice work and continued attention to detail throughout the season will provide the athletes with a consistent playing surface so they can concentrate on their game, rather than field conditions.

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