Proper infield maintenance is important because, not only will it enhance the quality of play – fewer bad bounces – it will also reduce the risk of injury caused by falls/stumbles due to an uneven playing surface.
The most important aspect of infield maintenance is to rake around the bases, plate and pitcher’s mound at the conclusion of every game and especially after every practice because practices often comprise of infield running drills and batting practice which often results in more wear and tear to the infield than actual games. In my opinion, raking around the bases, plate and mound using the big metal rakes is far more important than dragging the entire infield with screens because if these areas are not regularly raked, holes or depressions develop in these areas which just get deeper and deeper. Then, when somebody actually takes the time to fill in the holes, there is an area of very soft sand about 3” deep which adversely affects play. This problem becomes particularly acute in the batters’ box for right-handed batters and, to a lesser extent, at second base where players slide into the bag. Those two areas are the most important areas to rake and then to tamp down using the head of the rake.
As for how or which direction to rake, generally speaking, you simply rake the sand from the areas of build-up to areas of loss. It is that simple, but the direction varies according to the area. See diagram below.
In the case of the Bantam/Midget infield – which consists of grass – there are some additional considerations. The basic one is rake away from the grass, not towards it. This is because the sand is harmful to the grass – it kills it – and eventually causes the grass to become ragged necessitating trimming and loss of grass area. So when raking the pitchers’ mound, stand in the middle of it and pull the sand/clay toward the rubber, not towards the grass. Also, for the first and third base paths, stand or walk on the base path and rake towards the base or plate, not back and forth across the base path. Raking back and forth across the first and third base paths simply draws sand towards the grass and worse still, eventually causes a “U” shape to develop in the path. The base paths really don’t need to be raked very often at all but if they are, draw the sand to the centre of the base path where the players mostly run, not towards the edges and the grass.
I really, really recommend that the coaches of Tadpole, Mosquito and even Pee Wee teams delegate the raking of the infields to particular parents after each game according to some type of schedule. If you don’t, the same parents will do it over and over again. But it’s obviously up to the coaches, just as long as it’s done.
For Bantam/Midget teams, I believe the coaches should make the players responsible for raking – particularly the infielders as they have the most at stake for bad bounces caused by a poorly maintained infield. Likewise, pitchers can take care of the mound, particularly if they have had that game off from pitching. Outfielders can take care of the batters’ box and behind the plate. Catchers have usually done enough during the game already.
As for dragging the screens around the infield, that is very nice to have done too, but should be done only after raking has been done. Screening is best done when the infield is in a drier state. In fact, it should not be done when raining as the screen just picks up too much sand. If the weather forecast is for substantial rain in the immediate future but the infield sand is reasonably dry, that is really the time for dragging the infields with the screen. The rain on the smoothed surface settles the sand and makes for an ideal surface once the sun comes out and dries the infield.
The bottom line is that if the players, parents or volunteers regularly participate in the maintenance of the infields, they will remain in good playing condition and improve the quality of play. If they don’t , the infields will deteriorate and reduce the quality of play. It doesn’t take long to have an effect.
Thank you for helping to keep your park looking like a ballpark!
Field Manager, VMBA ... 2016