Making sure the diamonds sparkle in spring
Even in the cold and sleet, DNV Parks turf and fields foreman Nick Barbour can picture sunny skies on opening day, with excited Little Leaguers trotting onto carefully manicured baseball diamonds for the first games of the season.
“Back in January, we started work on ball diamonds across the District,” says Barbour. “The April 1 weekend is the opening day weekend for Little League baseball. The ice and late snow slowed us down a bit this year, but we had the fields ready. We’re at the mercy of the weather.”
There are 25 grass baseball diamonds, 12 gravel diamonds and two T-ball fields in the District, so the DNV Parks team has a lot of turf to cover quickly.
Diamonds in the rough
In the turf shop at the District Operation Centre, where the turf team meets every morning to go over the day’s to-do list, there’s a giant whiteboard with all the baseball fields in the District written on it.
Beside each diamond, there’s a checklist with three categories: marked out, cut out and filled in. “When all three are checked off, we’re done. We’ll move on to the next field,” says Barbour.
Here’s how that works:
- Marked out: A crew member goes out ahead of the rest of the team with a spray-paint gun, taking measurements and marking out the infield, base paths, home plate and pitcher’s mound.
- Cut out: The next crew follows behind and excavates the grass, weeds and moss that have crept or grown into the infield during the off-season using half-moon edgers to follow the painted outlines.
- Filled in: Finally, crews fill the excavated sections with finely crushed rock dust.
Tractors dump loads of the material onto the base paths, and then it is spread with rakes and compacted with a drum roller or tractor to firmly pack the playing surface.
During this stage, crews also aerate, and top dress the fields with specially sourced sand that’s spread using massive tractors with extra large “turf tires” that don’t damage the field. Afterwards, crews brush the sand into the grass using a Gator tractor.
Lastly, crews give the field is given a mow to make sure it’s game-ready before moving on to the next diamond.
Home field advantage
On this sunny spring day, crews are at Parkgate field, home of the North Shore Twins. Darryl Jackson, assistant irrigation worker, is part of the team working to repair a section of the infield.
“I love being part of a team and seeing the progress from start to finish. When we leave the field, and everything is looking good and ready for the season, it's a real sense of accomplishment,” says Jackson, who has worked on the turf team for six years.
While it can be challenging to be preparing fields for three months in often inclement conditions, the rewards are diamonds that sparkle in spring.
“It’s hard work, but the crews get it. We have a bunch of new people on our crew this year. We told them at the beginning that once you finish the ball diamond and walk away and look at it afterwards, it’s a great feeling,” adds Barbour.
Nick Barbour, who has been with the turf team for eight years, likes to attend the opening days in a purely unofficial capacity. “I popped up to Kilmer and the place was packed,” Barbour says about opening day for the Lynn Valley Little League.
He later attended the opening ceremony at Delbrook for Highlands Little League and will also make a trip to Mount Seymour Little League, which plays at Myrtle and Blueridge parks.
“I try to get out to them every year just to wish them all the best,” he says.
Prior to the first pitch of the season, the Parks turf team received emails from several of the baseball user groups congratulating crews on the fine work they’d done preparing the fields.
Barbour and several of Parks crew members live in the District, and some of their kids are in baseball, so that kind of feedback is rewarding for the turf team.
“It’s great. That’s what we do in turf. Right? We look after all the fields. The parents and coaches have all worked hard, and the kids look forward to opening day to get out on the field and play.”
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