Why are Softball Infields Dirt and not Grass? 3 Main Reasons


Softball has many unique features that set it apart from other sports. One of these features is the softball infield, which is made of dirt and not grass. There are various reasons why a softball infield is a dirt, and these include the shorter distances between bases, the velocity of the softball off the bat. Grass as a surface also slows done the softball considerably and requires more maintenance.

Let’s face it; the infield is where most of the action is when watching a softball game. In reality, almost 70 percent of the action takes place on the infield dirt. Even the outfielders spent only half the game on the grass. So mostly it’s the dirt that makes and breaks a softball field.

The softball infield is made up of the diamond and the surrounding space where the infielders play. The infield is usually ‘skinned’ when the grass layer is removed, and the infield area is replaced with a specialized kind of ‘dirt’ made up of a specific ratio of sand, clay, and silt.

Why are the softball infields dirt and not grass?

The distances between bases in softball

Softball originated as an indoor game with a reduced-playing field, so the pitch of the ball needed to be changed. Unlike baseball, which has baselines over 80 feet compared to the softballs 60 feet.

  • 60 feet between bases
  • 43 feet from home plate to the pitcher’s mound
  • 25 to 30 feet from home plate to the backstop
  • 220 feet from home plate to the outfield fence

The reduced distance means that the infield is home to lots of side to side movement of players as well as backpedaling and running. With the shortened length of a softball diamond, it would be difficult for players to react to bounces.

The surface area in the infield area of play must be conducive to firm footing. Dirt provides more grip and is a better surface for quick response maneuvers.

The velocity of a softball off a softball bat

In college-level softball, the average pitch is between 59-64 miles per hour as opposed to college baseball speeds are 80-95 miles per hour, and these speeds affect the velocity of the ball.

The velocity of a softball from a bat is slightly less than in baseball. With a grass infield, the ball becomes slowed down even further and slows down the game in turn. With the decreased velocity of softballs off the bat as well as the greater surface area of the softball, the dirt infield helps to maintain faster and further-reaching ball play.

The slowing effect of a grass infield

The softball surface area is larger than that of a baseball (11.88 to 12.13 circumference vs. 9.00 to 9.25 inches) and heavier (6.25 to 7 ounces vs. 5.00 to 5.25 ounces.)

This increased weight and circumference mean that the infield surface has a more significant effect on ball speed. Since the softball moves more quickly on dirt, a ball that gets through the infield will have a higher chance to reach the outfielders.

The friction between a softball and a grass infield is exponentially higher, considering the already larger surface area and weight. When the ball is slowed, the first and third baseperson would have to move in closer to the batter, and that could increase the possibility of injury to the players considerably.

What makes up the dirt of the infield?

When someone mentions a dirt infield, it sounds straightforward. Like you could just dig a hole and wheelbarrow it in from any dirt patch. There are, however, quite an art and a science to creating proper skin for softball infield.

All infield mix is a combination of sand, silt, and clay, plus additives and conditioners. The ideal infield dirt mixture should have a ‘cleats in, cleats out’ texture, which means that the dirt should be soft enough to leave cleat marks, but not so soft that the marks fill in when the cleat is removed. Soil that is too sandy will fill up the marks, and dirt that has too much clay will stick to a player’s cleats.

Drainage beneath the infield

drainage plays a significant role in creating a perfect infield playing surface. Dirt that is too wet can be a slipping hazard. The mixture needs a balance between proper drainage and enough residual moisture to keep the dirt from becoming hard, cracked, and dry.

The ideal infield dirt ratio

The perfect ratio of an infield dirt mix is mostly sand, which makes up 50 to 70 percent of the total. The rest is a mix of silt and clay. The ratio of silt to clay should be between 0.5 and 1.0 or preferably just below 1.0.

Sand has the largest particle sizes of 0.05mm to 2.00, and the large size allows for drainage. Silt should be 0.002 mm to 0.05mm. The smaller clay particles of 0.002 are spaced inside the larger grains of sand and function to retain moisture to keep the infield from drying out.

Soil conditioners are placed in the mix, such as clay that has been treated by calcination or vitrification. These treated clays help the uppermost layer of dirt fight impaction and provide better drainage. These conditioners are a great on hand fix during games where the infield has absorbed a lot of player activity.

The importance of a properly maintained dirt infield

the quality of the infield skin is not all about how well it advances the softball game. An uneven and unpredictable surface can cause balls to bounce erratically and could hit a player who is off guard.

If the dirt is too clayey, it could catch a player’s cleats and cause harm to the ankles and body. Dirt that becomes compacted and dry causes stress in the player’s joints, and too soft sand cause exertion and other stresses.

Why is dirt better than grass?

Grass infields are notoriously difficult to maintain, especially in high traffic areas like the infield. A grass infield will usually show wear and tear after only a few games, and unlike dirt, which you can fix on the fly, worn grass will not grow back during a busy softball season.

Once the grass starts to wear out, its surface may become irregular and cause erratic bounces that can cause injury. Not to mention the possibility of twisted ankles and worse.

No one wants a rainout when you are itching to knock it out of the park. When it rains, you can still play on dirt with some on the scene maintenance, but you can’t treat grass after a rain delay. There are means to dry and moisten dirt without having to wait for the sun to come out. 

Maintenance of a dirt infield is considerably less than that of grass and require far less watering. You will never find yourself waiting for the dirt to grow back.

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Conclusion

There are many reasons why a dirt infield is ideally suited to the unique sport of softball. Not only is it more responsive as a surface, but it is also adaptable and can be treated on the go. With the smaller dimensions and player placement on a softball diamond, dirt aids players in faster response times and consistent footing. 

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