Marana Parks and Recreation Parks Superintendent Dave Herman loves baseball. With his ever-present baseball cap and his bushy mustache, he looks like every 80’s movie idea of a baseball manager.
The only thing Herman loves more than baseball is his family and his parks. Fortunately, his love for the game and his love of his job came together recently.
Herman and his team have been hard at work getting the Town’s little league fields ready for the upcoming season. Not only are they trying to make the fields as nice and playable as possible, but they are also working hard to make sure both the infield clay and the outfield grass is as safe as possible.
It turns out a safe playing surface is also a great playing surface.
Herman and his team are spending a lot of time on the infield clay. Their first job was to determine just how deep the clay was. In many places it was 5-6 inches deep. Having that much clay can cause the ground to become very hard, which can lead to dangerous plays for young infielders.
“We are trying to make it safer for the kids,” said Marana Parks Maintenance Supervisor Donna Chambers. “If the field gets too hard, that ball can come up at them too fast.”
To make the surface safer as well as play better for teams, Herman and his crew have a multi-step process. First, they use a rototiller to turn up the clay. Once they have the loose dirt, they redistribute it across the infield and then use a laser level and a 60” paving roller to roll out the clay and make it level.
“It is a challenge to get it just right,” said Herman. “You want the field to have to some give, but not too much. You don’t want it so loose that it is like a sandbox, but also not so hard that it like playing on asphalt either.”
Using the laser level, they were not only able to find the depth of the clay, but figure out where the hardest portions were. Not surprisingly, the clay was the most compacted in front of home plate and in the high traffic areas around the bases.
While the field itself will be level, the areas around home plate will be rolled so that water will drain away from home plate.
The outfield grass will also be in great shape this season. Parks and Recreation crews have aerated the grass, which is the process of poking holes into the turf and getting air into the soil. Herman was thrilled that they were able to use a device called a Terra-Spike perforate the grass nine inches down. Aeration gets air into the soil, and the ambient air temperature actually warms up the grass, and not only helps get more water and air into the soil, but also creates more areas for the root hairs of the grass to spread.
“It will give us both a safer playing surface and a better turf quality,” Herman said.
One issue last year with some of the fields was the presence of burrs that were difficult to remove from clothing. The burrs came from khaki weed, and Town staff was able to use a Toro Rake-O-Vac to remove nearly all the pesky burrs. The device does just what the name implies- it rakes up the burrs, then vacuums them up. Not only did the process work well last season, but this season they have virtually no khaki weed on the fields.
The Parks and Recreation staff will complete the project in time for the little league season in March, but this is not a one-time project. Next year they will start the process all over again. Herman said that this is the same process that professional and college fields undertake, and it will create the best possible playing surface for little leaguers.