Playing Field Challenges

From Referee Magazine, April 2018

The rules provide the specifications for the playing field and the umpires are required to inspect the field before the game.  But nary a word is said about what is an acceptable field condition. It is obvious if the umpires determine the field is unsafe, the game cannot be played.  But lacking a safety hazard, it would be helpful to identify some guidelines and address what modifications the umpires can and cannot make if they find the field in less than pristine condition.
The best tool available for dealing with any unusual field conditions is the ground rules.  A ground rule cannot supersede the rulebook.  Additionally, ground rules should follow the principles of simplicity, safety and fairness.
Crooked or faded lines can be a problem.  The best way to deal with either is for the umpire to keep his distance and visualize a straight line to the foul pole of base.  It should be made clear before the game that fair or foul is determined by rule and not by how the chalk is laid out.
Loose or crooked bases can also be a problem.  The rule book address only loose bases.  If the impact of a runner causes a base to be dislodged, neither she nor the trailing runner in the same series of play is compelled to follow the base out of position.  Any following runner is considered to be touching or occupying the base if, in the umpire’s judgment, she is touching the point originally marked by the base.
Occasionally the ground crew will not continue the foul line through the warning track to the home-run fence.  This must be part of the crew’s checklist when inspecting the field before the game.  It is imperative to have this foul line drawn on the warning track for both the 1b and 3b foul lines.
Occasionally there are objects close to the home run fence which can present a problem.  Similar to the warning track foul lines, these objects are a considerable distance from the calling umpire, even if an umpire has chased on the hit.  Be very watchful for these objects, which can include small poles at the top of the home-run fence, video cameras and their stands/platforms, trees or bushes, and areas which allow the spectators to be near, or hang over, the fence.