Keeping your softball field safe for the players and looking its most beautiful is your top priority as a groundskeeper. With every crack of the bat and every pitch, the field gets beat up and worn down. That’s why regular maintenance is so important throughout the season. Without proper maintenance, a softball field can easily develop holes and other hazards that pose threats to player health and just hamper the play of the sport.
Of course, proper softball field maintenance can be a rather complex and delicate task. With that in mind, here are answers to five of the most common questions asked about field maintenance.
1. How often does a softball field need to be mowed during the season?
Throughout the softball season, it’s important to mow the grass at least once a week. During the spring and fall, you may even need to mow it twice per week. The key is to set a schedule so that you’re ensuring the field gets mowed as necessary. Make sure to keep a log of your field maintenance to ensure proper care. Outfield grass should only be cut when it reaches 3 inches in height. Maintain a height of 2 inches for freshly mowed grass at all times. Two-inch grass requires less watering to stay healthy. Regularly sharpen mower blades so you cut the grass uniformly and consistently each time you mow.
2. How should you dry a wet field?
If your softball field is wet and needs to be dried for play, you have some different options at your disposal. One thing that you should never do, even if you’ve heard of it as an acceptable tactic, is use cat litter. Litter is designed to clump together when it gets wet, and it’s simply not the ideal agent for drying your softball field. Instead, use a soil conditioner or drying agent that won’t break down and prohibit play on the field. You can purchase commercial field drying agents from any number of manufacturers. They typically contain some form of clay (vitrified clay, montmorillonite clay or calcined clay) designed to soak up water when spread across the field. However, be careful not to overuse drying agents, as that can lead to a hard, dusty playing field.
Water outfield grass only as needed, which will help you avoid creating soggy conditions or encouraging weed growth. Watering should be done at least 24 hours before playing a game to give the field a chance to dry out.
If you’ve been struggling to keep puddles from ruining your base paths, consider investing in a softball field tarp. A tarp can be used to protect the field from rain when no one is playing, to keep the pitcher’s mound moist and pliable, and to protect the grass when practice is in session.
3. How do you fill a hole in the batter’s box or mound?
Holes can form in the batter’s box or pitcher’s circle as the season progresses. These can be dangerous to player safety if left untreated. Tamping the holes will help keep them from becoming a major problem. Make sure to always fill the hole with wet clay instead of dry clay. If it is dry, the clay will get knocked loose and scattered upon contact with a player’s foot — forming a new hole again. Clear any loose dirt or clay from around the hole, then add water to the hole. Press packing clay into the hole and tamp it into place. This will seal the hole more effectively, keeping the infield in playable condition during a softball game.
4. How often should the field be inspected?
During the season, the field needs to be thoroughly inspected daily. Debris can blow onto the field at any time, so it’s important to make sure the field is inspected and cleaned each day to protect players. You also want to look for any holes or other signs of deterioration in the field’s condition each day. Keep a log of your daily inspections so you can be more organized and ensure proper maintenance procedures are being followed.
5. What’s the proper dragging technique?
Dragging is a routine maintenance process that you’ll need to do regularly throughout the softball season. Unfortunately, it’s one of the tasks that many groundskeepers mess up, actually causing field conditions to worsen. When doing the dragging, go slowly and leave a bit of clearance from the edge of the grass. Make sure you don’t take fast turns that could shoot soil all over the turf. It’s also important to make sure you alternate your dragging patterns throughout the season. If you drag in the same direction every time, this can create an uneven playing surface and ruts along the stopping points. Alternate your dragging direction each time for a smoother field.
Bonus: How can I maintain my field with a low budget?
Of course, you may be under the restrictions of a tight city or school budget. No need to worry — you can still do excellent field maintenance within these restrictions. If you constantly run up against budget constraints, start looking for ways to make proper maintenance more affordable. Would you be better off switching to artificial turf as a way of saving on mowing labor and irrigation costs? Minimize fertilizer costs by switching to native grasses, and sticking closely to the manufacturer’s recommendations for use.
Whether you’re specifically in charge of raising money for softball field maintenance or not, there may be various opportunities for you to expand your budget. A high school athletic department in Twin Falls, Idaho, raised $40,000 in only two weeks by holding spaghetti and crab feeds, soliciting local businesses, and hosting novel events for the community. If you need more money in the coffers to complete the maintenance that would turn your softball field from grungy to great, fundraising may be the way to go.
Proper softball field maintenance is an ongoing task that requires daily attention during the season. Get organized and never put off tasks that need to be done. The safety of the athletes is on the line, and you have the power to create a better, safer game for everyone involved.