I recently made a second trip to the Netherlands to present innovative groundskeeping ideas and techniques. This second year was better than the first in many ways. We attracted more attendees, about two-thirds more overall, with an audience of 80 in Rotterdam, an international group of 60 near the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, and a crowd of 65 in Appledorn. The Appledorn field is the best of the city fields and its caretaker, Dick van Meekerk, is the one who initiated these trips. About 90 percent of the attendees were taking part in these on-field seminars for the first time.
In the Netherlands, the city baseball/softball fields are controlled by the government, but, except for the mowing of the field surface, each is maintained by volunteers from the city. The government employees who do the mowing were encouraged to attend the sessions.
One attendee was a department chair from a city that was going to be constructing a new baseball field in the spring of 2009. I was able to connect her with an experienced volunteer from a nearby town who could serve as the hands-on mentor. Mentoring and networking on ball fields were new ideas to them.
The major cities of Haarlen and Amsterdam have good fields, but there’s been little change since I first saw the Haarlen field as coach for the U.S. baseball team in 1983, when we came over for an exhibition game. At that time they didn’t have bullpens, so when they brought in a new pitcher, he just warmed up in the outfield. Now they do have bullpens, but they are not maintained. They don’t have clay bricks, calcined clay or a groomer. All the dirt work on these fields is done by hand, and aluminum rakes are considered state of the art.
I did find one city field that was using a golf cart, and they pulled a section of chain-link fence behind it. They’d not heard of a flex drag.
Honkball, as they call baseball, is growing, though soccer remains the most popular sport. The Netherlands Baseball and Softball Association lists 178 teams, and a team from the Netherlands competed in the 2008 Olympics.
The most drastic change I saw on this trip was not in the mechanical improvement, but in their manual techniques. They’ve become much better at tamping the mounds and are putting in a heavy, road-base, gray clay. It does become quite moist when it rains, which is often. When I suggested they needed a tarp, the first question was, “What’s a tarp?”
One field had a circular striped fair pole that extended about 2 feet above their 6-foot fence and was inside the fence. I explained that the fair pole should be outside the fence, 20 feet tall and all white. I recommended they go to the local irrigation supplier and buy a piece of PVC pipe to use for it. That led to a discussion of fair (versus foul) lines and the rule that if the ball hits the base, the line or the pole, it’s fair—they didn’t know that.
The city fields are set up much like a major league ball field layout. Some of the volunteers have traveled to the U.S. and attended a game, and all had seen some of the televised MLB games. They have 6-foot baselines and were surprised to learn that was optional; the only mandatory measurements are the pitching distance and the mound. They found out they could do whatever they liked to their fields as long as the mounds are correct and the bases are exact. We talked about the distance of the Green Monster as compared to other MLB ballparks, and that the rounded corners at Fenway Park were originally created because the groundskeeper used a tractor to pull the field drag, and, since it wouldn’t turn tightly enough to make square corners for him, he formed the rounded ones instead. One of the attendees had put in grass instead of coaching boxes, which the others hadn’t known was OK to do.
Every city ball club offers a family membership, and most of the sites have a restaurant and a bar, so they do generate some cash flow and have some funding available. Most mow the areas outside of the field surface using a small zero-turn mower or another type of four-wheeled, ride-on mower similar to the homeowner models here. They hadn’t considered using the mowers to pull field drags. Because they’re doing all of the dragging by hand, they had no lips at the grass edge, so I explained how they formed and how to get rid of them.
The climate is very cool, and most of the fields have ryegrass turf. Two of the fields had an irrigation hookup behind the mound, another thing we discussed. I explained why it was important to drag the skinned material seven days a week, just like mowing every week, whether the grass was too tall or not.
They were impressed with the photos I shared of high school fields and parks and recreation Little League fields, and I told them that’s what could happen with the right equipment and the knowledge and dedication to do things right.
Floyd Perry travels throughout the United States and abroad conducting Groundskeepers Management Workshops. He is the author of four books.