Selecting proper equipment is crucial to the success of any player, whether you’re a beginner or looking to replace old gear.
At one time, schools and leagues picked up the cost of bats, gloves, and other necessities. This is usually no longer the case, says Chris Bates, instructor and head of player development for In the Zone, a baseball and softball training facility in Flanders, New Jersey.
“The sad part is, baseball has kind of priced itself out for a lot of people,” Bates said. “Bats and gloves, once you get to the high school level, are quite expensive.”
Bates offers suggestions for players and parents to get the most out of their gear and keeping it well maintained.
Get the Best Deal
Some stores or distributors may offer team discounts. If not, Bates recommends searching the Internet for deals. Before making any purchase, go to a local store and try out a bat, glove, or cleats. It’s also important to research the buyer’s history and reputation. Facilities like In the Zone can assist with this process. Ask your coach if he has any suggestions.
The first thing you should do before buying a bat is make sure its measurements meet the legal standards of your league or organization.
Second, don’t make the mistake of buying a bat that’s too big, which slows down a hitter’s speed when swinging through the zone. Avoid standardized charts that recommend a bat based on a player’s height and weight. Place its knob in your palm, holding your index and middle fingers straight out. If you can grip it without your arm shaking, it’s probably the right weight.
For younger kids, Bates advises using a glove they can squeeze. At the older levels, many shortstops and second basemen prefer smaller gloves 10 or 11 inches in width. Third basemen and outfielders use bigger gloves, while catchers and first basemen have specialized mitts for their positions. Bates advises pitchers’ gloves to be close-webbed, so opponents can’t see the type of pitch you’re throwing.
Older players typically play multiple positions, so it may not be practical to buy a specific glove for each. Try a third baseman’s mitt, which would allow you to pitch and play most other positions.
This may be one of the more difficult purchases. Most stores aren’t going to let you take shoes outside in the dirt. Approach buying cleats the same way you would any pair of shoes: try on several, and walk around in them for a few minutes. Again, consult with your league for guidelines on the type of cleats you can wear.
Plastic cleats aren’t just for younger players. “If you watch a big league game, more of those guys wear them than you think, because they’re lighter,” Bates explained. “Most pitchers and infielders wear metal spikes, but there’s a lot of infielders that wear plastic.”
Keeping players safe from head injuries is a major concern. A batting helmet should feel comfortable on the head, and needs to be the right size for that player’s age level. Make sure it fits snugly and covers the ears. “You don’t want to buy a little league helmet for a high school kid, and all of a sudden he gets hit,” Bates explained.
Safety and Maintenance
Keep everything inside when not in use. Clean your bat daily after a game or practice with a damp cloth. If you don’t have oil to break in a new glove, Bates recommends a foam shaving cream. Keep it out of your bag and away from sweat or other moisture, and wipe it down with a damp cloth. You can buy a glove conditioner for a more thorough cleaning once or twice a year. Check all gear regularly for dents, cracks or other signs of wear and tear that might make them unsafe to use.
Baseball gear is a big investment. You’ll naturally grow out of items as you become older, but get as much mileage out of them as possible. Take care of every piece of equipment as if it were your most prized possession.