This story was updated at 3 p.m., March 17, 2014.
It’s an annual rite of spring when baseball players take to the diamond for spring training.
Well, Mother Nature apparently is not a fan of spring sports.
Due to the harsh, wet winter, the county’s athletic fields including local parks, elementary and middle schools are closed to teams who would ordinarily start their spring play.
The restriction will be reassessed daily but is in place to prevent surface damage, according to the county. The decision affects all the county’s fields. As of Monday, in light of the recent snow, all fields are still closed.
There are 248 athletic fields in Montgomery Parks and 210 elementary and middle school sites with fields, according to Melissa Chotiner, media relations manager for Montgomery Parks.
Most of these local park fields were given permits to begin practices for the spring season for sports such as baseball, softball, soccer, and lacrosse.
“Most fields are too wet to accept play without doing damage to them, which may cause further delays to them being open long term. Some are in worse condition than others due to specific site conditions, soil types, and their ability to drain or percolate the vast quantity of water currently trapped in the soil,” Chotiner said in an email to The Gazette Friday.
Parks staff members will visit fields individually to make an assessment of their playability related to how much moisture is still trapped in the upper layers of soil and whether significant damage was done during this time by unpermitted and unauthorized use of the fields.
Permit holders will have their permit revoked and lose privileges and be assessed fees if caught violating the rules on the permit. Individuals and groups who have not permitted the fields and are caught using fields when they are closed will be cited a violation fee. Park civil citations are $50 for a first offense, and $100 for subsequent violations. However, if there are damages done to the field, Montgomery Parks will charge an additional fee to repair the field.
Montgomery Parks Ballfield Coordinator Brent Conner said there are several types of damage that will occur when fields are played on when they are saturated, including grass being shorn off and ripped free of the soil. This leads to bare spots, especially in the goal mouths of soccer and lacrosse fields where play is most intense. The other damage, which isn’t so visible, is soil compaction. Turf does not grow well in compacted soil; however, many weeds do, Conner said. Also, compacted soil does not drain well and leads to standing water on fields.
Dick Clark, president of the Rockville Baseball Association, said he has 50 Little League teams waiting to start playing ball.
“It’s soaked out there but there is nothing we can do,” he said.
To check the status of local fields, contact the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission / Community Use of Public Facilities inclement weather line at 301-765-8787 or register for Montgomery Parks ALERT notifications at www.montgomeryparks.org/media/alerts.shtm to determine if your field is open for play beginning March 17. Updates regarding field status will also be available at MontgomeryParks.org.
What is open is Little Seneca Lake in Black Hill Regional Park and Lake Needwood in Rock Creek Regional Park which welcomed boaters and fishermen to another season on the lakes.