Choosing a glove
Sorry y’all, I’ve been a bit busy lately and have not been keeping Life in the Fastpitch Lane freshened up with new material. Guess that’s what happens when your day job expects you to actually be working at work. And your lesson schedule starts going crazy.
In any case, I was talking with my friend Frank Morelli a couple of weeks ago and he suggested I put up a post on how to select a new softball glove. I’ve done some stuff with bats in the past, but haven’t really addressed gloves. That’s interesting since you’ll probably keep your glove a lot longer than any particular bat, so you want to make a good choice. Thanks for the suggestion, Frank. Here we go.
Gloves tend to be items of individual preference. Just like bats, there’s no right one for everyone. Unlike bats, though, there’s not really a way of measuring which is better for you. In other words, if you’re a power hitter going for the long ball, you’ll probably like a RocketTech, whereas if you’re smaller and looking for singles a different bat might work better for you. There are some general rules regarding length and weight, which means there are some ways of narrowing down the choices, at least.
With gloves, not so much. So again, it’s a matter of preference. But here are some things to consider in any case.
First, if you’re a female player (or buying for one), get a glove (or mitt) designed for fastpitch softball. Cousin Billy’s old baseball glove, while it may be free, is probably not going to work for you. Fastpitch gloves are now designed for female hands, which means they have smaller finger stalls so they fit better. A lot of the manufacturers, realizing girls generally don’t have the same hand strength as boys, are using materials and designs that break in a little easier. Akadema, for instance, has only three finger stalls instead of the usual four. For years players have been stuffing their ring and little finger in the last finger stall to help the glove close easier. Akadema designed their glove that way to make it automatic, and to help out everyone who didn’t know that trick.
Glove size is another important consideration. Young kids will small hands playing with an 11″ ball can get away with an 11.5″ glove. My youngest daughter Kimmie had an 11.5 inch Mizuno at 10U that she absolutely loved. She would still be using it to this day if I’d let her. The look on her face when we told her she had to give it up was “You’ll get this glove when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.” But it was too small for a 12 inch ball — especially since her positions are pitcher and outfield. An infielder might be able to get away with a glove that small, but probably shouldn’t. When you go to a 12 inch ball, I’d say go at least 12.5 inches on the glove size. That’s good for infielders (who need a quick transfer) and players with small hands. Pitchers and outfielders are better off with a 12.75 or 13 inch glove, which is a bit more forgiving. It’s not absolute, though. Kimmie uses a 12.5 inch and does just fine with it.
There’s also something to the design. Outfielders will tend to use open webbing, whereas infielders and pitchers used closed or checkerboard webbing. You want closed webbing for pitchers so hitters and base coaches can’t see the grip through the glove. Not that most really look that much, but that’s the rule of thumb.
Then there are the different brands. A lot depends on the model and the materials used, but you can find some general tendencies. Growing up, I was always partial to Wilson gloves. They broke in quickly and lasted a long time with a little care. As an adult I found that Mizunos were very similar to the Wilsons in terms of quick break-in and quality. Lately I’ve been recommending Akadema gloves, partially because they made me a distributor for some reason. But mostly because every kid I’ve gotten one for has loved it — including my own Kimmie. Again, fast break-in, the ball secures easily, and it’s easy to care for. It’s the glove I use now, although a baseball model since the little finger stalls of a fastpitch glove don’t work with my fat fingers. I’ve heard Nokonas are nice too, but pretty expensive. I have no personal experience with them, although if a Nokona rep wants to send me one I’d be happy to try it out.
About the only brand I’ve never liked has been Rawlings. Those gloves always seemed stiff no matter what you do to break them in. Maybe they’re better now, but the ones I tried I didn’t like. Sort of like the difference between the old, stiff denim jeans and the ones they make now.
For the materials, you want genuine leather. The synthetic materails are easy to mass produce and durable, but they don’t have the same feel to them. Sure they may be cheaper, but they won’t yield the same results. If you buy your kid a synthetic glove don’t complain when she’s making errors.
Does it matter if you have a mitt or glove to play first base or catcher? Depends on who you talk to, but I say yes. If you’re committed to one of those positions, a mitt designed for it can help. A first baseman’s mitt is a little longer, helping you reach those high throws while keeping your foot on the bag. It also makes it a little easier to scoop and secure low throws. A catcher’s mitt generally has extra padding, and a rounded pattern that makes it easier catch fast-spinning pitches and frame the balls when you catch them. It’s definitely worth the investment in my opinion.
Speaking of patterns, that’s another quirk of gloves and mitts. They’re not all the same. The pocket and overall design of the gloves and mitts are different, depending on what you need. One of the hot new designs for infielders is a flared glove, i.e. one that is wider at the fingers than at the pocket. It creates a sort of funnel to secure the ball. I have no personal experience with it, but a lot of people seem to like it.
Most manufacturers will provided details on design and a guide as to which glove works best for a given position. Read several Web sites to get an overall view.
The last word of caution is yes, you get what you pay for. But at the same time, there can be a point of diminishing returns, just as there is with bats. Choose a glove that’s appropriate for the level you play. A 10U player at any level does not need a $200 glove. If you’re basically playing a dozen games a year in the local park district league you don’t need one either. If you’re a serious player, though, a quality glove can give you an edge over an old beat-up one.
Hope that helps!