Drying out

NEW ULM – As the old adage goes, April showers bring May flowers.

But as the showers persisted earlier this past week, numerous baseball and softball games in and around New Ulm either had to be postponed or canceled due to the influx of moisture that inundated the fields and rendered them unplayable.

“When it’s this wet, we do not allow people on the fields and we do not want people on the fields because they will rut up and damage the aglime; out in the grass, they will cause damage to the soft turf surfaces,” said Tom Schmitz, Director of New Ulm Park and Recreation. “If people stay off the fields until they dry, then there’s not a problem.

“But if player action is on a wet field, it causes significant damage to the turf and to the aglime, which takes a significant amount of extra effort and work and time to repair.”

When the spring baseball season begins in the first few days of April, Schmitz and Co. are often tasked with snow removal, which creates an even bigger dilemma in preparing the fields for play.

“Normally in the spring, we’ll try and remove some of the larger drifts off the field to help with melt-off and speed up the ability to get play going,” said Ed Tietel, who has been part of the field preparation process for the city since 2005. “We’ll either go out with a larger piece of equipment and blow it off or go out with a walk-blower or a shovel and try and at least move it around so it can get a chance to melt quicker.”

Tietel, who is also an assistant coach for the New Ulm High School baseball team, said the problem is that the moisture does not immediately leave the field after the snow is gone.

“The biggest issue we have every spring is depending on frost,” Tietel said. “Everything’s mother nature-dependent, so if there’s a lot of frost in the ground, that slows the ability for the field to dry out.”

After the warmer temperatures thaw out the ice-logged soil, field upkeep becomes routine. Raking the infield agricultural lime (aglime) to even it out, painting or chalking lines on the field and mowing the outfield grass once or twice a week are all steps in the process of preparing the fields for games.

However, work cannot be done until the rain stops.

“It has to start doing some stuff on its own, otherwise it’s a losing battle for us to start doing anything else,” Tietel said. “It has to get to the point where the air is not wet so it can start drying up. Otherwise, anything we do is going to be counterproductive.”

For baseball, the city’s two main fields – Johnson Park and Mueller Park – host three high school teams as well as Martin Luther College’s team for home games.

With four different teams calling two parks home, the fields often take a beating during the spring season.

“Multiple games on one field in one day cause more degradation than an individual game would cause in one day,” Schmitz said. “In general, the more games played on a specific field, the more degradation and the more effort goes into mainenance.”

The completion of MLC’s new baseball field on the west side of town will reduce the number of teams playing at the city’s parks by one beginning next season.

Softball does not have the same issue – MLC and Minnesota Valley Lutheran each have their own parks while New Ulm Cathedral and New Ulm High occupy the two fields at Harman Park.

However, the same still cannot be said for the baseball teams even after MLC’s prospective departure from the city fields.

“At peak times, we don’t have enough fields to go around for all of the various programs,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz said there has been discussion about adding more fields in town, but there are no immediate plans for doing so at this juncture.

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