How Baseball Groundskeepers Achieve Checkerboard Patterns in the Ballpark Grass

Today I found out how baseball groundskeepers achieve checkerboard patterns in the ballpark grass.

Most of us have had the opportunity to stand in awe as our eyes perceive the beauty of a perfectly mowed grass in a baseball stadium. Stripes, checkerboard style, or even artistic expressions add flair to a baseball field. But how exactly do they get these patterns in the grass?  Some say the grass is mowed at different heights or is colored to achieve the effect, but neither assumption is true. Rather, patterns in the grass have everything to do with how the grass is bent, which affects how the light hits it.

When the light from the sun hits the grass, the color changes tone depending on how it is bent, which allows the creation of the checkerboard or designed effect. Specifically, strips of grass will appear lighter in color when the sunlight reflects off the full length of grass blades.  Thus, the lighter grass is very likely bent away from you. The sections of grass that appear darker in color are a result of the sunlight reflecting off just the tops of the blades because the grass in these areas are bending toward you.

The bending of the grass specific ways is primarily accomplished via mowing it in different directions. For instance, to create a checkerboard design in the grass, you might begin by mowing the grass in straight side-by-side lines from north to south, alternating the direction. Next, you mow the lawn a second time in the same way, only creating east to west stripes. As a result, you alter the way the grass bends and, therefore, change the way the light hits it, creating a patterned design. This process is called lawn striping.

To ensure greater contrast in their patterns, many groundskeepers not only use old-fashioned reel mowers, but they often attach a lawn roller behind the blades of the mower, which causes the grass to bend down further in the direction it is cut.  You can achieve this same effect at home by attaching weights to the rubber flap on the back of a hand lawn mower.

Thick healthy grass is best to create these designs, and the grass must be kept at least four or five inches high for the desired effect. The particular type of grass mowed also plays a role in the final result. Bermuda and Zoysia are warm-season grasses, which won’t produce a huge contrast between the striped colors. Whereas, fescue, bluegrass, and rye grass will produce more of a contrast to the striping effect, accentuating the final result. To make your pattern stand out even better, you can also water the grass directly after mowing.

Bonus Facts:

  • Baseball was largely based on the English school-boy game of rounders, which became popular in the United States in the early 1800s. Rounders was also known as townball, base, or baseball.
  • The first official baseball field was created in 1845 by Alexander Cartwright. Cartwright and the members of his New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, developed the first rules and regulations that were accepted for the modern game of baseball. In the early 1800s, Americans formed informal baseball teams and used local rules.  Many of the rules of baseball used today are based on the Knickerbocker Rules of the 1840s.
  • The first recorded baseball game was held on June 19, 1846.  The game was played in Hoboken, New Jersey between the New York Nine and the Knickerbockers.  The Knickerbockers, though the ones who set down the rules for the game, lost 23-1.
  • Of the four bases on a baseball field, home plate is the one that differs from the others in terms of shape and at one time in what it was made of. Nowadays, home plate is made of rubber like the rest of the bases. Prior to the use of rubber, home plate was made from wood, iron, or stone.  One can only imagine the splinters when sliding over the former, and the ouch-factor when diving for the plate in the latter two cases.
  • In today’s baseball games, the top of the pitching rubber can be no higher than ten inches above home plate. However, this rule did not always exist. Between 1903 and 1968, the height limit for the pitching rubber was fifteen inches, but teams emphasizing pitching often set it higher. The Los Angeles Dodgers set theirs as high as twenty inches and had the reputation of having the highest pitching mound in the major leagues. What difference does it make? A high pitching mound favors the pitcher. The pitcher not only benefits from being able to throw the ball faster with a higher mound, but also can throw the ball with a greater downward plane, which makes it more difficult for a batter to hit the ball squarely with the bat and has a tendency to induce more ground-balls, which are a pitchers second best friend after the strikeout. Prior to the pitching rubber rule change in 1969, baseball was known to be a pitcher’s game. In fact, the year 1969 is known by baseball historians as “The Year of the Pitcher.” When the rules changed in 1969, mandating a lower height between home plate and the pitching rubber, the game of baseball saw a surge in offense.
  • If you’ve looked closely at a major league baseball field, you’ve probably noticed the strip of dirt located in front of the home run fence. This dirt trail is known as the warning track. Outfielders use the warning track as an indication that they are nearing the home run fence when going for a fly ball. The transition from grass to dirt allows fielders to remain focused on the ball overhead, but know how far away from the fence they are, so they can attempt to catch the ball safely. This perimeter of dirt is also used as a way for groundskeepers to work without having to drive on the actual grass field. The warning track originated in Yankee Stadium. As part of its design, Yankee Stadium was built as a multipurpose facility and incorporated a dirt track around the outside of the field for use in track and field events. When people saw how it helped outfielders gauge their distance from the fence and how they used it to their advantage, other major league stadiums incorporated warning tracks into their stadiums as well.
  • The term ‘warning-track power’ isn’t usually complimentary to a hitter. Its meaning refers to a batter who seems to have only enough power to hit the ball to the warning track for an out but not enough power to hit it out of the park for a home run. As a more generally-used slang term, warning-track power also refers to someone who is almost good enough for something…but not quite.
  • Unlike the height of a pitching mound, the basic layout of the baseball diamond has seen little changes since its originally accepted design in the 1840s. The distance between the bases has remained constant at 90 feet, which continually proves to be the ideal distance without giving favor to either the batter/runner or the throwing speed of an infielder’s arm.  Well… unless your name is Ichiro.
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  • As a Little Leaguer in the 1970’s I do not recall anybody sliding head first intro any base much less home plate until Pete Rose did it. Now I am sure somebody did it before Pete so spare me the stats but I doubt ANYBODY did when the base was WOOD or stone

  • From the article, above: “In fact, the year 1969 is known by baseball historians as ‘The Year of the Pitcher.’” The reference to “1969” is probably a typographical error. The “Year of the Pitcher” was actually 1968, when the Earned Run Average leaders in each league had ERAs well below 2.00.

  • Brent Schroeder

    If you’re managing a baseball field your grass should NEVER be over 2.5″ tall. Where are you getting 4-5″ from? You will still be able to mow in a pattern just fine. If I would have let our turf get 4 inches long at my last grounds keeping job I would have been fired.

  • Here’s an oddity I’ve not yet tracked to ground for myself, but so far just asking other BB fans has drawn a blank:
    For as long as I can remember the home field advantage included batting at the bottom of the inning, but APPARENTLY this has NOT always been the case. In Zane Grey’s book “The Shortstop,” it went the other way, and Grey was supposedly something of a BB fan.
    So – whassup wi DAT?