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Infield conditioner adds visual ‘pop’ for series spectators at softball championship


December 7, 2016
By Turf and Rec Staff

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To go home with the championship trophy, teams in the Little League Softball World Series have to win seven games over an eight-day period against the world’s toughest competitors from Canada, Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and all 50 U.S. states.

Mike Hebrard, owner of Oregon-based Athletic Field Design (AFD), knows that nothing about the field preparation for this annual worldwide event can be ordinary.

“The girls competing in this series deserve the best field we can provide,” he said of the championship tournament played in August. “What’s more, it’s broadcasted to a global network cable audience. It’s one of our biggest challenges in terms of quality, creativity and performance.”

Every year, Hebrard and his preparation team descend on Alpenrose Stadium in Portland, OR to prepare it for the series. After removing the infield grass, the team skins and manicures the surface, then follows with applications of Turface Athletics’ Pro League® infield conditioner. Its calcined clay particles provide a uniform surface that minimizes the potential for injury from sliding and diving as well as bad hops. It also absorbs moisture to reduce rainouts.

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“Our goal is to make the diamond really special for the players, the fans, and the TV cameras, so we make use of Pro League colours,” Hebrard said. “We use Pro League Champion Brown outside the baselines and Pro League Red in the batter’s box, pitcher’s mound and on-deck circles, which shows up well on television. Of course it’s the infield that gets the most attention.”

To give the infield visual interest, the AFD team echoes the cross-hatched pattern mowed into the outfield grass by applying a combination of two other Pro League colours—Natural and Heritage Red—inside the baselines, in a subtle cross-hatch. The result is a festive and attractive diamond that also performs at the level the players, coaches, umpires and sponsors expect.

During the Series, four games a day are played at Alpenrose. Because of the heavy competition schedule—games are played at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m.—there are times when AFD has only minutes to fix the field between games.

“One time we had just 12 minutes,” Hebrard recalled. “We know as soon as we detail the overall design and wet down the infield, it will be packed and ready to play again.”

“What Mike Hebrard and his staff are doing is unique,” said Jeff Langner, business manager for the sports, golf and landscape division of Profile Products, Turface Athletics’ parent company. “The visual pop is exceptional and it offers a singular backdrop to the action. It’s a big reason why the Little League World Series organization looks forward to coming to this facility each year for its most important softball tournament.”

As Hebrard points out, the pursuit of creativity is a way for groundskeepers to add value.

“To us there is no such thing as a perfect field. We’re very detailed in our approach and we’re always looking for something new.”