If it starts to rain during a Baseball game and stays light to moderate play will continue but when heavier rain puddles up on the field, play is stopped and the Ground Crews start the process of covering the field with a tarp. How Is a Rain Tarp applied to a Baseball Field?
- Infield Tarps are applied from a tarp roller
- Unrolled on to the field by Field Cover Crew
- Chief of Crew uses radio to instruct the Crew
- Done on the dominant Windward side
- Unfold Cover
- Pull the Cover’s edges out keeping low to prevent wind from getting underneath
- Cover the Infield
- Then anchor the corners
Dozens of guys with the same shirts on do a ballet of sorts rolling out a huge Tarp that protects the Infield in order to keep the game and prevent damage to the playing area. Simple Right? ..Mmm Maybe not!
Why Do the Grounds Crew Cover the Baseball Field
Baseball fields have dirt sections in the infield that provide running lanes and areas for sliding into a base. When these get too wet, it becomes hazardous to the runner with the slippery mud surface. The mud hurts proper sliding into base for safety.
Mud getting smeared onto a ball hit into the dirt area would make handling and throwing the ball treacherous it’s more about the mud than the water. When you are throwing a Baseball at 90 plus miles an hour. It’s a control detail.
Although there is always a chance of getting injured during a game even without rain, then rain increases the chances of injury of high paid athletes who pride themselves on spectacular plays and are expected to make spectacular plays.
Heavy rain can cause players to slip. When the fielders run after the ball to catch it or when the hitter runs, they have a greater chance of slipping on the slippery muddy ground.
The game literally becomes unplayable because of the water puddles that hinder players from running fast in the field.
You remember when you were a kid and a baseball got wet and how heavy it was to throw and how difficult it was to catch. When the baseball gets wet the pitcher can’t throw at different angles or as fast. It could damage their arm. The hitters can’t hit as far as the ball comes off the bat differently than a dry ball and bat.
Pitchers throwing the kind of speed that they are throwing can inadvertently hit batters. Batters’ vision is effected with even light rainfall. Not to mention the Umpires too! Possible reduced visibility with the slippery ball can increase the risk of batters being hit by a pitch.
Baseball outlawed the spitball after the death of Ray Chapman in 1920 because spit acts like a wet spot on the ball and can make the throw react uncontrollably could make it deadly in the batter’s box. The biggest problem with rain is that it can make the game less safe.
Field Tarp Roller
Field covers or Tarps are unrolled off a tarp roller by the Cover Crew who are part of the Ground Keepers Crew and then unfolded. Most of the time there is no problem getting it done then there always that real windy day that makes a memory and a million hits on YouTube.
A Field Cover Crew needs support radio or other communications with them directly from a chief to the crew. It’s hard enough to hear instructions from the field team leaders when it’s windy and maybe storming without having to be heard over the PA system along with a huge crown trying to make it out of a storm. Then thunder and lightning could play a role.
First and foremost for everyone on the field cover team has to know what “windward” and “leeward” means in regards to field covering. Windward is the upwind side of the cover.
It is where the troubles typically begin when deploying or striking in windy conditions. Strong winds that get under the windward side can overpower the cover team and the tarp “blows up”. If the windward side is secured, the leeward edge tends to just flap as the wind blows over it, not letting air underneath the cover.
You want your best and most experienced people working the windward side, trying to keep the wind from getting under the windward side and blowing up the field cover.
Field covers are generally unrolled off a tarp roller and then unfolded by the cover team. More personnel on the dominant Windward side and fewer personnel on the less dominant Leeward side.
When the team pulls out a fold or is flipping the cover over to drain the water off into the outfield grass, the crew has to keep the edge they are pulling out as close to the ground as you practically can as you unfurl or fold. If the cover gets twisted up in the wind, they have to get out to retrieve an edge, wait till the gust subsides a bit before venturing out onto a wind-whipped field cover.
Once a corner is in place it can be anchored down There are many ways to anchor a full infield tarp. The most common would be using sandbags or tarp pins. You can anchor the tarp very quickly using pins.
This is really helpful when pulling or unfolding into a headwind, but does not do much when pulling or unfolding the edge with a tailwind from behind you. The idea is to keep as much air and wind as possible from getting under the cover as you pull it out.
Big waves of air underneath the cover are what tend to overtake teams. When a big gust comes and starts whipping air underneath, the team has to be ready at any time when the Chief Team Leader of the pull yells “All stop” loudly. Everyone stops and sits on their edge until the gust dies down and the leader re-starts the pull.
Grounds Crew Jobs
Deploying the Tarp is the most dangerous thing the Grounds Crew has to deal with performing their job.
Just think about it for a moment as a thunderstorm moves into the stadium the player runs off the field and the fans head for overhead protection away from the elements.
The Grounds Crew has to spring to action and get to work. Exposing themselves to a heavy wind gust, rain sometimes hale and lightning strike. Not an easy thing to do. But it’s done in minutes all for a Baseball game.
Full infield tarps can be as large as 175’ x 175’ and, depending on the material, can weigh about 2,500 lbs. for the heavier 10 oz. per sq. yd. vinyl material that some major league teams use. Lighter weight tarps like the 6 oz. per sq. yd. woven polyethylene tarps will weigh about 1,700 lbs. for the same size.
Lightweight tarps will cost about a third of what the heavy-duty vinyl tarps will cost. Lightweight Tarps can be harder to deal with in wind events than the heavier Tarps and things can get even uglier faster. The key is a well-trained staff on hand and good communication from the Crew Leaders. Cover Crews have a couple of rules that they live by:
- When high winds blow in, the crew has to keep the tarp as low to the ground as possible to try to keep the tarp from inflating and losing control.
- If large air bubbles get under the tarp making it hard to control, a cardinal rule is to NEVER stand with both feet on the tarp trying to hold it down. A strong enough gust can push that air bubble right at you and launch you into the air, creating space for a possible injury to take place
- If the wind is taking it away and you have a hold but can’t control the tarp and it wants to pull you, let it go. Don’t risk a shoulder separation. If you let go, the wind will actually take down the bubble and deflate the cover. You can then grab it and move it into position. These are not situations to be fooling and can actually be dangerous. When the Tarps get away from the Field Crew it’s not unordinary for players coaches and trainers to kick in and help out.
Baseball Field Measurements
Baseball Field Drainage Systems
All-Pro and Semi-Pro Baseball fields have a special makeup of material that used on the infield of a Baseball field. They use a mix of 3 materials:
- Sub-base material
- Crush limestone base
- On the top is a layer condition that is typically Diamond-Pro Red Infield Conditioner.
When removing water after rain it’s important to remove standing water first. The Ground Keepers first dig a hole usually around the bases on the infield. Often times low areas form around the bases. A shallow hole is dug and a hand pump is used to remove the water from the low line area.
After removing the water in the lower areas Puddle Pillows are used to absorb followed by a professional grade of Course Calcined Clay.
The next step is using a Drying Agent or a Conditioner to dry the wet low area. Drying Agents and Conditioners should be raked in with aluminum round tooth Rake to keep the Rake’s depth to a minimum.
Using the rounded tooth rake will allow the drying agent to work better and quicker. Never use a Push broom to push water out of the area. This will only develop the new lower area and bigger problem along the way.
Sports fields are built with slopes that will help drainage during its lifetime. On baseball fields, the highest point is the pitcher’s mound, which is 10 inches higher than home plate.
The field slopes away from the mound in all directions. Apart from the pitcher’s mound, the infield is higher than the rest of the field and has a .5% slope into the outfield.
The outfield’s shape is like a Crown then slopes away at a 1 to 1.5% slope. The best way to build a baseball or softball field is to maintain that .5% slope for the infield from the pitcher’s mound. The outfield still maintains the 1 to 1.5% slope, but water will drain in all directions from the center point of Centerfield out and run into an underground drainage line. The highest point on a baseball field should be the pitcher’s mound, which is elevated approximately 15 inches above home plate and the baselines. For the most efficient surface drainage, the field should slope away from the mound in all directions.
In addition, a crown can extend from the second base into the outfield to direct water to the foul lines. Apart from the pitcher’s mound, the infield is higher than the rest of the field and has a 0.5 percent slope into the outfield. The outfield then slopes away at a 1 to 1.5 percent slope.
Soil amendments and conditioners, such as calcined clay and calcined diatomaceous earth, can absorb surface water and help firm muddy soil.
Baseball is well protected with built-in sloped drainage protection and soil conditioners that are added by Grounds Keepers at Stadiums across the country. But when all else fails there’s the Rain Tarp that is the last layer of protection against Mother Nature who every now and then tries to stop the Boys of Summer and America’s favorite past time.