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Volume 21 No. 1
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Movable mounds allow parks flexibility in scheduling events

Don Muret
The portability of pitcher’s mounds at two ballparks have put them in better position to play host to non-baseball events.

TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the new home of the College World Series, and AT&T Park in San Francisco both have pitcher’s mounds made of compressed clay piled on top of steel plates. Unlike traditional mounds, which have to be torn apart and rebuilt, the system produced by Natural Sand Co. can be removed in six pieces with the mound intact and stored elsewhere when a flat surface on the field is required for football, soccer or concerts. Both parks have multiple football games scheduled for this fall.

TD Ameritrade Park’s portable mound would allow baseball and football to share the park.
The portable mound takes four hours to remove and another four hours to put back, providing a much quicker changeover compared with the two days it takes to painstakingly rebuild and reshape a traditional mound to the team’s satisfaction, said Greg Elliott, the Giants’ head groundskeeper. In San Francisco, the system has been in place since the 2009 All-Star break, providing the club with greater flexibility to book non-baseball dates at a venue that aggressively markets the field as a multiuse space.

The six-piece design is critical to the Giants. They looked at the portable mound the Oakland A’s use at Coliseum, but its design as a single 18-foot-wide disk was too big to pass through the smaller gate at AT&T Park for storage. Enter Grant McKnight, president of Natural Sand in Slippery Rock, Pa. McKnight, whose firm specializes in developing dirt and clay mixes for grooming MLB playing surfaces, has known Elliott from the time Elliott became the Giants’ groundskeeper in 2008.

“AT&T Park is basically a big event center that hosts baseball,” McKnight said.

One day during the design process, McKnight came up with the idea for a six-piece portable mound after playing a game of Trivial Pursuit with his kids. He took a closer look at the pie-shaped game pieces and it struck him that a similar design could work for a removable pitcher’s mound. McKnight pitched his idea when the Giants sought proposals for installing a new mound and won the contract.

The July 16 international soccer match between Manchester City and Club America at AT&T Park is one example of an event where the portable mound has paid off. The Giants have one day after that event to get the field ready for a series against the Dodgers and most likely would not have been able to book the match without the mound system, Elliott said. For that event alone, the $100,000 it cost to install the portable mound and two similar versions for the bullpens has been worth the expense.

“On one end, it helps the event coordinators that are confident we can get [the mound] out in time,” he said. “On the baseball side, the team’s thinking is, ‘Hey, the mound will be the same after it is put back.’ Consistency is the key.”
In Omaha, ballpark officials spoke to Elliott before making the decision to spend $80,000 to install the portable mound there. TD Ameritrade’s bullpens are traditional clay surfaces.

The ability for quick changeovers at TD Ameritrade Park will come into play should the building sign a deal with an independent baseball club, said Roger Dixon, president and CEO of stadium operator the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. The authority is involved in a lawsuit against a group that planned to bring a minor league team to TD Ameritrade Park “until they imploded,” Dixon said in an email. “Can’t say much more than that.”

Pro football starts in seven weeks at the new park, when the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks will play the first of four home games there. Out west, the University of California will play five home games this fall at AT&T Park while Memorial Stadium in Berkeley is being renovated. A sixth college football game, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, is Dec. 31 at AT&T Park.

The two parks are the only facilities with Natural Sand’s removable mound, and Oakland is the only one with its particular model, as far as McKnight knows.

SADDLE UP: The Dallas Cowboys recently named Jeff Stroud general manager of Cowboys Stadium. Stroud was most recently employed with Manhattan Construction, where he was senior superintendent for the firm that built the stadium.

Stroud replaces Jack Hill, the stadium’s original general manager, who left the Cowboys in May.

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BreakGround.