By Tim Mekeel
LANCASTER NEW ERA
LANCASTER, PA (AP) Fans entering a baseball stadium understandably will go “ooh” and “ahh” about the vast expanse of lush green grass that carpets the outfield.
But beware of valuing style over substance.
Most of the game is played on humble brown ground — the pitcher’s mound, home plate area, basepaths and the rest of the infield dirt.
So the Lancaster county firm that mixed and delivered the specially blended soils on Clipper Magazine Stadium’s field would love fans to appreciate its products too.
“The grass always gets the glory, because it’s so pretty,” said Greg Mayfield, sales manager of Diamond-Tex, which supplied the stadium’s infield and warning-track soils.
“But when you think about baseball and talk to the experienced groundskeepers, 75 percent of the game is played on the dirt,” he said.
“We’re the Rodney Dangerfields of the ballfield construction industry,’” Mayfield quipped.
Whether or not respect from fans is in short supply, the Diamond-Tex products are long on importance to the $27-million city stadium.
Their value is seen in many ways:
• the significance of the field’s quality to its main user, the Lancaster Barnstormers; the careful way the products are made; and
• the sheer volume of those products required to build the field.
Approximately 1,000 tons of materials were made by Diamond-Tex for Clipper Magazine Stadium’s field.
Diamond-Tex, part of Martin Limestone in Blue Ball, delivered the materials, filling 47 oversized dump trucks with 341 tons of infield mix and 655 tons of warning track mix.
Clipper Magazine Stadium opened its inaugural season May 18.
The North Prince Street stadium is the fifth minor-league ballpark to use Diamond-Tex, joining stadiums in Reading, Harrisburg, Altoona, PA, and Aberdeen, MD.
Those parks are home to Phillies, Nationals, Pirates and Orioles affiliates, respectively.
(Diamond-Tex mixes also were in now-razed Veterans Stadium, where the major league Philadelphia Phillies played, but another brand is in its replacement, Citizens Bank Park.)
The Clipper Magazine Stadium job cost more than $25,000, including transportation costs, which were modest due to the stadium’s proximity to the Diamond-Tex production site at the Limeville Quarry near Gap.
Once the materials were at the stadium, a contractor took two or three days to spread up to 6 in. worth of Diamond-Tex atop up to 6 in. of sand, supplied by another vendor.
(The field’s 100,000 sq. ft. of sod were laid over a bed of sand too, not the Diamond-Tex.)
Next, approximately all the Diamond-Tex was compacted to hardness, save for the top quarter-inch to half-inch. That upper layer is left loose for the grounds crew to manicure with mats dragged by yard tractors and rakes.
The hardness, as well as a minuscule slope to the field, causes rain to run off a Diamond-Tex field rather than be absorbed by it.
While fans may overlook a ballpark’s dirt, it sure gets noticed by the athletes who play on it and the groundskeepers who maintain it.
“The things that make Diamond-Tex stand out above the rest are its performance and durability for the players and the groundskeeper,” said Josh Viet, Clipper Magazine Stadium’s groundskeeper.
“For the players, it provides a very hard, firm surface. It doesn’t tear when you run on it. It doesn’t get big divots or ruts,” he said.
“It provides a consistent, stable playing surface, which is what players like,” said Viet, who’s tended professional fields in Puerto Rico, Japan, Tennessee and Aberdeen, MD.
For groundskeepers such as himself, explained Viet, the product’s durability means fewer and smaller repairs are needed to maintain the desired quality of playing surface.
Diamond-Tex mixes were picked for Clipper Magazine Stadium by Viet’s employer, Sports Turf Services of Columbia, MD, the stadium’s field construction and maintenance firm.
Sports Turf project director Chad Olsen said the product’s track record was the deciding factor.
Sports Turf has used Diamond-Tex mixes on 15 fields in eastern Maryland, including the Orioles’ Aberdeen field, he said, with impressive results.
“The more you work with them and play with them, the more you realize they’re a pretty nice product,” because they yield excellent “playability” under a host of conditions, said Olsen.
“As a groundskeeper,” he explained, “your job is to get the field to play the same way every day, whether you’ve had two inches of rain or you’re in the middle of a drought.”
“The field’s going to take abuse,” observed Barnstormers General Manager Joe Pinto.
At Clipper Magazine Stadium, for instance, the field will be subjected to wear-and-tear from ball games plus the crush of concert crowds.
Despite that punishment, the field must remain smooth, so a bouncing baseball takes a predictable “good” hop.
At the same time, the field must remain attractive so fans find the venue appealing.
“At the end of the day, we need to make sure the surface is safe for the players and aesthetically looks good,” said Pinto.
Mayfield said Diamond-Tex mixes perform well in all of those categories, for a variety of reasons.
Diamond-Tex mixes are proven blends of clay, silt and sand, prepared to a consistently high quality, he said. As a check, finished products are matched to their specifications daily.
“It’s not just a science. It’s an art, too. There’s hundreds of kinds of clays, for instance,” said Mayfield. “So it’s not like baking a cake, where you’re working with the same kind of flour, sugar and salt every time. We have to make adjustments as we go.”
Diamond-Tex mixes are produced by combining some of a half-dozen kinds of soils, which have been tested to determine their makeup.
“They all have sand, silt and clay in them to some extent but in different ratios,” Mayfield said. “We blend the soils together to get the mix we want in the end result.
“It would be a lot simpler if we had pure sand, pure silt and pure clay to work with, but that’s not the way it comes,” he said.
Such attention to detail has made Diamond-Tex mixes what Mayfield calls the “dominant” brand used in Lancaster, York, Lebanon, Dauphin, Chester, Bucks, Montgomery and Delaware counties.
Diamond-Tex makes three grades of infield mix:
• professional (for pro ballparks such as Clipper Magazine Stadium),
• premium (for school and municipal fields where organized baseball or softball is played) and
• original (for fields at elementary schools, churches and public parks).
“Just about every baseball or softball field you see out there buys infield mix for their field. They don’t just use any old dirt,” said Mayfield.
That includes untold scores of Diamond-Tex installations in Lancaster County, he said.
Of the three grades, professional has the most clay, packs the hardest and has the finest particles. All this leads to the best surface but requires the most maintenance, Mayfield explained.
The professional grade is 20 percent clay, 25 percent silt and 55 percent sand, screened to professional baseball standards.
Premium, used on the two Williamsport fields that host the Little League World Series, gives the best combination of high quality and low maintenance, said Mayfield. It has less clay and more sand.
“That’s why it’s so popular with schools and leagues that don’t have a full-time grounds crew,” he said.
Original grade is a coarser material with even more sand, plus small pebbles, for a surface best suited for recreational-level play, said Mayfield.
Dirt for the warning track is different from dirt used in the other areas of a ballpark. Warning track mix has a reddish tint and is made of crushed stone and soil.
Diamond-Tex also sells a pair of related ballfield products: athletic field line marker (pulverized limestone) and infield conditioner (used to absorb water and beautify the field).
The ingredients for all grades of Diamond-Tex come almost entirely from Lancaster County, said Mayfield, with the balance from Chester County.
Sources include soil removed from construction excavations, expansion of Martin Limestone quarries and expansion of other firms’ quarries, he said.
Martin Limestone produces approximately 70,000 tons of Diamond-Tex mixes annually, for building new fields and replenishing existing ones.
“It washes off. It gets on cleats and uniforms. It blows away,” Mayfield explained. “It doesn’t go bad, but it disappears.”
While that tonnage is considerable, Diamond-Tex mixes are a niche business for Martin Limestone. The material amounts to far less than the millions of tons of stone quarried yearly by the main operations.
Approximately 20 of Martin Limestone’s 479 full-time employees work with the Diamond-Tex operation, though some split their time between Diamond-Tex and Martin Limestone’s other businesses.
Martin Limestone, whose other operations include Burkholder Paving and New Holland Concrete, acquired Diamond-Tex in 1994 from the late M. Simon Zook, who helped launch the product in 1957.
Zook, of Honey Brook, also founded Zook Molasses Co. and the Tel Hai Camp and Retirement Community, in Honey Brook as well.
As part of Martin Limestone, new Diamond-Tex varieties have been added and the existing products upgraded, said Mayfield.