Advertisement

Archive for Tuesday, July 4, 2006

New softball surface knocks some players out of joint

Cheaper ag lime mixture, designed to reduce rain outs, covers all infields at city complex

July 4, 2006

Advertisement

Jon Wagler knew he'd hit it well. He was thinking triple all the way. But on his way to third base, fate - and ag lime - intervened.

"I ran around first, and my foot slipped," Wagler said. "I stumbled a couple steps, went down and landed awkwardly on my arm."

Now, his dislocated shoulder in a sling - and $3,500 in medical bills later - his season is lost, and he's relegated to the cheering section and base coach. It's a situation he attributes to a new playing surface this year at the Clinton Lake Softball Complex, which city leaders say is in place to reduce rain outs.

Agriculture limestone, known in softball circles as "ag lime," now covers all four infields at the complex, the city's hub for adult leagues, invitational tournaments and occasional youth competitions that draw teams from across the country.

"We were having complaints of lots of rain outs with the old material. We'd (put ag lime) on some of our other fields and it was working well," said Rod Hoffer, field supervisor for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.

Jon Wagler, left, watches as his teammate rounds third base. Wagler, who dislocated his shoulder during a softball game three weeks ago, has been relegated to coaching third base and plans to sit out at least one full year before playing again.

Jon Wagler, left, watches as his teammate rounds third base. Wagler, who dislocated his shoulder during a softball game three weeks ago, has been relegated to coaching third base and plans to sit out at least one full year before playing again.

Hoffer, who plays on the fields himself, said he's heard a few complaints, but said there are steps players can take to adapt to the fields. For example, switch to turf shoes, often used by football players for games on Astroturf and other hard surfaces.

"Changing the shoe could make some of that (better)," Hoffer said. "Obviously, if you wear a hard spike, it's not going to accept it very well on this. (Hard spikes) work great in the grass, but on (ag lime), it's going to be a little bit different."

Ag lime, designed to drain rapidly, is a naturally harder surface than the traditional clay mix that covered the infields at the complex for its first nine years. Ag lime fields also take less time, money and labor to maintain, Hoffer said.

Hoffer said the initial costs of putting in the ag lime infields is about $10,000 less than the mix used in previous years.

Jon Wagler pumps his fist after one of his softball teammates blasts a double at Clinton Lake Sports Complex. Wagler has been relegated to coaching third base after dislocating his shoulder more than three weeks ago.

Jon Wagler pumps his fist after one of his softball teammates blasts a double at Clinton Lake Sports Complex. Wagler has been relegated to coaching third base after dislocating his shoulder more than three weeks ago.

The new infields also allow the three-man crew that cares for the Clinton Lake softball fields to do more work caring for 1,600 acres of city-owned park land. Last year, the crew spent much of its time caring for the Clinton Lake facility.

Sprinklers run overnight to dampen the softball fields, and Hoffer and his crew drag the surface to create a fluffy cushion of about a half inch of loose material on top.

"It plays faster and better," Hoffer said, noting that Mother Nature isn't wreaking havoc on the schedule as much as in past years.

One night earlier this season, four hours of drizzle couldn't cancel - or even delay - contests on all four fields.

"We've played on times that we normally wouldn't have played," Hoffer said.

Jon Wagler smiles as he walks to the dugout after the first inning. Wagler, who dislocated his shoulder just over three weeks ago, now helps coach his softball team from third base.

Jon Wagler smiles as he walks to the dugout after the first inning. Wagler, who dislocated his shoulder just over three weeks ago, now helps coach his softball team from third base.

Such steadfast scheduling can force other sacrifices that some players would rather not make.

Andy Hom, a shortstop who has played for seven seasons at Clinton Lake, was forced to the bench earlier this season when he slipped and jammed his thumb while pursuing a ground ball.

The way he figures it, bad hops and washed-out games are as much a part of the game as picking up extra players. But getting injured on what should be the least-threatening of moves - approaching a grounder, not fielding it; or running the bases, not sliding into them - is difficult to justify.

"To me, you don't play softball or really any outdoor sport in northeast Kansas and not expect to get rain outs," Hom said. "I'd take the rain outs and have better field conditions when we do play."

Get more

See the full story on 6News at 6 o'clock Tuesday and 6Newslawrence.com

Hoffer figures players already are adjusting to the new surface, just as they adjusted to the new complex and its fences backed up to 300 feet nearly a decade ago.

"It's a give and take situation," Hoffer said. "I don't know if there's a perfect playing surface out there. Everything's got a price to it."

Wagler knows all about paying the price. In addition to the medical bills, missing work and the season, he's missing out on the fun, too.

"You want to be out there with your team and play and get rid of some of the frustrations of the week, but you just have to sit there and watch," Wagler said.

Video

Rod Hoffer, field supervisor for Lawrence Parks and recreation, on how they prepare the fields for league play. Enlarge video

Video

Joel Wogler, who has played softball in Lawrence for 20 years, on his issues with the ag-line fields. Enlarge video

Video

Andy Horn, who has played softball in Lawrence for 7 years, on his impression of the new fields. Enlarge video

Comments

Spades 8 years, 5 months ago

I think the city made a big mistake on this new infield. I play in two leagues, and sub a few more times during the week. You cannot dive or slide on this surface. Playing 3rd base in the Men's league I can't dive for a ground ball or line drive down the line without tearing up my arm. Sliding is completely out of the question. The rules state that on a close play at the plate, the runner must slide, but you cant without tearing up your leg. The infield is causing serious injury to players, and it is taking the fun out of the game. I would rather work around a few rain-outs than play on this surface.

bnelson 8 years, 5 months ago

Problem 1. "change to turf shoes" Well that is brilliant. As stated by Mr. Hoffer hard spikes work better on grass, so should the outfielders slip and fall in the grass with turf shoes or slip and fall on the infield with hard spikes. Also, the "turf" these shoes were designed for is no longer in use in any professional sport, because it was known to be dangerous. Is that what is being suggested here? Are these fields dangerous?

Problem 2. Rain outs. The problem I have heard from most players, and my feeling as well, is that most rainouts have been caused by rain that was over by 1 or 2 pm. Fields can be made playable in this 4 hour window (for a 6:15 game time start) but it just takes some work. I used to care for fields back home in Wisconsin, and rain over by 2 pm never stopped a game, but I had to work my butt off to rake those fields by hand to loosen up the topsoil so the sun could dry it out. It is sad that the field crew is either unwilling or unaware of how to get the field ready for play.

Spades 8 years, 5 months ago

Here's an idea...make the infields dirt again, and purchase 4 cheap diamond tarps. That will keep the rain off, and protect the infield. Clinton would be more like the premier complex Lawrence is claiming it to be.

mom_of_three 8 years, 5 months ago

Eudora's fields off of K-10 uses red dirt/clay from Oklahoma. From talking to the grounds keeper there, the clay component provides them excellent drainage while maintaining a playable infield.

GardenMomma 8 years, 5 months ago

Did you not hear the most important part of this article? It's not about the playing field it's about cost.

"The new infields also allow the three-man crew that cares for the Clinton Lake softball fields to do more work caring for 1,600 acres of city-owned park land. Last year, the crew spent much of its time caring for the Clinton Lake facility."

It's CHEAPER to use ag lime. Last year the three-man crew spent too much time caring for the playing fields and not enough time caring for the 1600 acres of city parks. I guess the other city park crews needed the help of three extra people.

tweetybird2 8 years, 5 months ago

You can slide. Just wear long pants or use sliding shorts and knee pads. Our team does it all the time.

TheTruth 8 years, 5 months ago

They should just put turf infeilds in like Mid America. Then they could play almost regardles. One more thing change Lawrence to a USSSA town.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.