Crew gives fields what they need

Rain means extra work, planning for maintenance department

When it rains, Gary Hines, Lawrence Parks and Recreation District No. 1 supervisor, would rather have it pour. He said a heavy rain prevents less water soaking into the ground than a slow, soft rain does. The conditions after a rain storm affects how fast the fields dry.

“It’s not a matter of how much it rains, but how it comes down,” Hines said.

Hines supervises the maintenance of Lawrence’s baseball and softball fields. This gives him the responsibility of being one of people who decide when games are rained out. He said he tries to put off a decision as long as possible and will wait as late as 4 p.m. before making a decision if it is questionable.

With some parents and players traveling from outside of Lawrence, he said that it is difficult to wait any later, but they will work up until game time to get fields playable. For example, July 6, they didn’t get off the fields until 6:30 p.m. –15 minutes after game time.

The first action the crew members take after it has rained is to do anything they can to get the standing water off the field.

“We sweep it off, pump it off, dig a trench and drain it off,” Hines said.

Then they hope Mother Nature gives them a hand with a steady breeze or sun. He said one of the most important things is to get air going through the field. He said it is important to turn the mud into clods and then the clods into dirt. The maintenance crew uses three drag systems with grates and rakes on the back of a tractor.

“Some days, we have to make our own wind and sun,” Hines said. “We do whatever we can so the fields are playable. If we have to rain the games out, that’s more work for us.”

Even though Lawrence has seen more rain than usual in June and July, Hines said that this year is nothing in comparison to 1993.

“It was a nightmare,” Hines said.

Matt Shroer, of Lawrence Parks and Recreation Facilities Maintenance II, rakes calcine clay into the infield at the Clinton Sports Complex after the rain July 9.

Hines said experiencing the rains of 1993 wasn’t all bad as it helped the department better plan the Clinton Lake Sports Complex. They brought in calcine clay, a material that holds more water than other materials, to take the infields of the softball complex. They also crowned the fields to help with the drainage. Hines said that even though all four fields were built and designed exactly the same, Field 1 at the complex seems to dry the slowest.

New products being released offer many options for Hines, but a limited budget and many fields prevent him from buying them. Already this year they have spent more than $5,200 on drying agent.

So far this year, Lawrence Parks and Rec has bought 26 tons of drying agent and has more on order. Ten tons were sufficient for last year’s entire season.

This probably won’t be the worst year ever. In 1993, they went though 50 tons covering fewer fields than they do now as it was before the Clinton Lake Sports Complex.

Hines and his staff of five full-time workers are in charge of preparing and maintaining 17 fields including four complexes: Holcom Park, the Youth Sports Inc. fields and the Clinton Lake Sports Complex. They prepare, mow, weed, irrigate fields for games, empty trash cans and clean restrooms at the complexes. They also maintain 12 practice fields and the southwest portion of Lawrencs’s parks system, such as Eagle Bend.

“Everything there is to do, we do it,” Hines said.

They also have their hands full when it doesn’t rain. When it is dry, Hines said there is a lot more handwork. They rake and water by hand the batters ‘boxes and pitchers’ mounds.

Hines said one way to improve the quality of the fields at Holcom — which have not undergone significant renovations in six years — would be to replace the dirt at the fields at the Adult Complex, which could replace dirt at two of the fields .Last year when Kansas University built Arrocha Ballpark, they donated the dirt from the old softball field to the city, which was used to replace the dirt on Holcom blue.

Another option that would help the field conditions is to add a third shift that would prepare fields after the completion of the games at night.

Hines said that they usually give no particular fields priority, but work on the wettest fields first. The one exception will be when the American Fastpitch Assn. will be hosting its national tournament at Clinton Lake Sports Complex starting Saturday.

“I sure hope it doesn’t rain that week,” Hines said. “With 100 teams coming from out of town to play, we really want to make sure we canget those games in.”

He was introduced to field work from his work as a coach. Before taking the position with Lawrence Parks and Rec 14 years ago, Hines was the assistant softball coach for Kansas University. He coached All-American and now head coach Tracy Bunge. He still coaches a 18-U softball team in Kansas City.

With his long days of supervising and assisting field workers, Hines doesn’t find it necessary to take his work home with him. He admits his yard is not the prize lawn his baseball and softball fields are. He even has someone mow his grass.

“You see the guys who work in offices have nice lawns,” he said. “I’m here all day, and mowing my own grass is the last thing I want to do.”

Hines said the crew usually works from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily, but when necessary they come in as early as 6 a.m. on the weekends to get fields ready for early morning games.

When it comes down to it, Hines said it is a day-to-day decision on what the best tactic is to make the fields playable.

“You have to make a decision on what the dirt says to you,” Hines said.