Value of a Properly Graded Infield
There are many things that make up a safe and playable infield skin area on a baseball or softball field. No matter the age group, skill level, or budget situation, a properly graded infield will provide significant value in regard to safety, playability, and protecting your material investment.
A common misconception around baseball and softball fields is that the game is played on grass and “dirt.” And while this isn’t false, it is not entirely true. Infield mix or engineered soils are better terms when describing the skin portion of an infield rather than dirt. Sand, silt, and clay make up an infield mix, and there are many options of these throughout the country. Typically, these mixes are 60-75% sand and 25-40% silt and clay.
Once you’ve decided on an infield mix that is best for you, having it installed during new construction or amended into your current mix requires laser grading. Laser grading is the use of laser technology to grade an infield to the desired slope. Too steep of a slope will result in loss of field material in areas you don’t want to lose it, and if the slope is too flat, it will not shed the water as designed. Simply adding material to a low area and using the naked eye is not going to solve the problem. It will most likely move the standing water to another area or create a high area that needs to be leveled out.
A good comparison of a properly graded infield is a properly graded stretch of road. After a rain, there is still water on the road, but give it some time and the water will shed off the road toward the designed drainage system. An infield is no different. Once the material is placed on the field and graded, a roller should compact it down, creating a smooth, safe, playable surface that will shed most of the water that falls on it. After the field has been rolled, adding between ¼-inch to ½-inch of calcined clay or expanded shale conditioner is recommended to help manage moisture on the field as well.
Over time, on a road or infield skin, there will ultimately be a need to repair both as freeze/thaw, maintenance practices, and significant use will create imperfections on the surface. Ideally, laser grading your infield annually—preferably in the fall when play is complete—is the best practice. This ensures the removal of any high spots where material may have moved and fills in low areas to create a safe and smooth surface. Adding a load or two of material every other year and having that graded is preferred as well.
Protecting players from injury and protecting the investment of field material are two key values of a properly graded infield. Being able to play on the field as fast as possible to reduce a delay after a rain event is another, and all three require a properly graded infield.