Does your baseball player dream of making it to the Major League, or at least signing a Minor League contract, with his favorite team? Even if he has the talent, he won't be able to do it without the right equipment. Every guy (or girl) who wants to play baseball needs at least two pieces of equipment: a baseball bat and glove that fit properly.
Sometimes, knowing which bat to choose can be challenging, but knowing before stepping up to bat is critical. Many different manufacturers, including Rawlings, Louisville Slugger, and Nike, make quality baseball bats. Finding the right one, though, involves more than just buying from a good manufacturer. The material from which a bat is made can make a lot of difference.
Major League Baseball players always use wood bats. Wood bats offer the widest variety with regard to taper, or handle diameter, and shape. They are less sturdy than metal bats, however, and sometimes break after being used several times. They are also heavier than metal bats.
Aluminum bats weigh less than wood bats, and are manufactured for speed and power, or pop. Some aluminum bats have a carbon lining for increased strength, or are cryogenically frozen for the same purpose. Aluminum bats are often made with mixtures of aluminum and another metal for greater strength as well.
Two other types of bats are available. Graphite bats are stronger and weigh less than good aluminum bats. They are made of a combination graphite-fiber material, or contain aluminum cores and graphite linings. Titanium bats are also very strong, featuring aluminum cores with titanium linings.
Size matters, so choose the right size for the batter. Youth League bats range between 26 and 31 inches long. High school, college, and professional leagues use bats between 32 and 36 inches long.
Weight is also important. While a lighter bat increases speed and control, it reduces power. While professionals often use lighter bats, certain minimum - and maximum weight ranges are important in considering the right bat for each player.
Usually, Little League players between four and five feet tall should use bats that weigh between 16 and 20 ounces. In comparison, Youth League players who weigh between 70 and 140 pounds should be swinging bats that weigh between 18 and 23 ounces. Players in high school or college use bats between 27 and 33 ounces.
Shape is another important factor in choosing the best bat. First, baseball bat barrels are usually 2.5, 2.5625, or 2.625 inches around. The longer, wider barrels have larger "sweet spots" (the best place for the ball to hit the bat). Shorter, narrower barrels, however, offer better speed and control.
Another important factor is baseball bat taper, which describes the diameter of the bat handle. Typically, bat taper is 31/32". Narrower tapers allow players to rotate their wrists faster. Bats used for high school or college must be 2" in diameter or smaller.
The type of the handle grip also makes a difference. A good grip is essential to a proper swing. While a leather grip offers optimal hold, it absorbs vibrations less effectively than rubber does.
Make the Catch with the Right Glove
The same manufacturers who make the best bats - Rawlings, Louisville Slugger, and Nike - also make great gloves, as do Easton, Wilson, and Mizuno. Even the best glove, though, can't do its job properly if it doesn't fit the player using it. Once again, size matters.
Finding the right size of baseball glove isn't as hard as it may seem. Youth-sized baseball gloves are made for younger players, and are between eight and 12 inches long. Kids really need the right size, so avoid the temptation of buying a glove that's too large and hoping he or she will grow into it. Buy two less expensive gloves as your child grows; this will benefit him much more than buying a glove he or she cannot use properly.
Adult baseball gloves are bigger, of course, and are between 10.5 and 13 inches long. A professional baseball glove, however, never measures more than 12 inches long. Special mitts and gloves designed for women are also available.
Baseball gloves also differ slightly depending on the player's position. For example, catcher's mitts are heavily cushioned and feature a thumb pocket and a mitten. In comparison, first base mitts use less cushion, and the pocket is shallow.
Infielder baseball gloves are used by the second baseman, third baseman, pitcher, and shortstop. These gloves are between 10.5 and 11.5 inches in length, and have shallow pockets. Usually, infielders use open back gloves with a large opening for the hand, and a closed web pocket that allows them to retrieve a caught ball more quickly for a throw.
Finally, outfielder baseball gloves are longer, usually about 12 or 12.5 inches, and have deeper pockets that decrease the impact of a fly ball. This also offers them greater range and reach. They usually use open web designs, because these trap the ball better.
Special note: While infielders usually prefer open back gloves, any player with a smaller hand can choose to use a closed back baseball glove. These feature Velcro or leather wrist straps to tighten the glove's fit during wear.
Baseball glove materials
Most gloves are either made of leather or of a synthetic material like plastic or vinyl. Synthetic gloves are less expensive, but are often stiff and sometimes difficult to use even after breaking in, but sometimes offer an expensive alternative for parents of rapidly growing children.
Usually, the best gloves are made from full-grain leather, although the majority of gloves are made of top-grain leather. These gloves are often pre-oiled. Premium steer hide baseball gloves are of a slightly lower quality, but are very durable. They are also stiff and require lengthy break-in. These gloves are often pre-oiled as well. Full-grain leather baseball gloves are also available; these contain a large percent of animal hide, and require lengthy break-in as well.
Other materials occasionally used in manufacturing baseball gloves include pigskin, kangaroo, and buffalo hide. While kangaroo and buffalo are sturdier than steer hide, these gloves can also lose their shape more easily. Pigskin is less expensive but not very durable.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Baseball Pitching Machines
The secret to a good swing is lots of practice. Since even the best pitcher can't throw the same pitch 100 percent of the time, pitching machines are an important part of any good player's practice regimen. For best results, choose a pitching machine that fits the player's skill level.
Different pitching machines accept different kinds of balls. Some use regular baseballs or softballs, while some use only specialty baseball- or soft-ball sized balls. Some machines use Wiffle balls.
Not every machine uses Reduced Injury Factor, or RIF, balls, so check the specifications before buying one for use in Little or Youth League. Other options include sting-free or dimpled practice balls for aluminum bats that are vulnerable to denting.
Beginners will need to use a slower tossing machine than pros, so baseball pitching machines for beginners should be capable of tossing as slow as 10 miles per hour. In comparison, baseball pitching machines for youth players should contain a single motor, accept RIF balls, and feature maximum pitch speeds of at least 60 miles per hour. Some youth leagues prefer models with wheels for transportability, while others opt for those that can be placed on a movable cart.
Players in high school, college, and professional leagues need both variety and faster pitching. Baseball pitching machines for high schools and colleges should have pitch speeds of at least 90 miles per hour. The best models feature a swivel head (for tossing to other areas on the field) and a vertical pivot (for fly balls or ground balls).
Portable machines usually hold fewer balls than larger, fixed machines do. If capacity and portability are extremely important, consider a feeder-compatible pitching machine. Then buy a feeder that will hold additional balls. Usually, a small feeder holds about 20 baseballs, while a larger feeder can hold as many as 80.
Some pitching machines also feature an in-line switch. This allows the practicing player to turn the machine on and off from a box located at his or her feet.
As a general rule, one-wheel pitching machines are less expensive and throw only fastball pitches from 25 to 75 miles per hour. They have an average weight from 30 to 60 pounds, and are good for casual batters. In comparison, dual-wheel baseball pitching machines have pitch speeds between 25 and greater than 90 miles per hour. Dual-wheel pitching machines are capable of tossing nearly any pitch and can toss the ball from different angles. These usually range between 60 and 150 pounds, and are best for serious batters.
Pitching machine power affects pitch speed. The engine's horsepower determines the machine's maximum pitch speed, so machines with a greater total horsepower will offer a faster pitch speed.
Before buying a pitching machine, consider power alternatives. Usually, a stationary pitching machine can be connected directly to a power outlet. Portable models, however, are not always placed near an electrical outlet, so a battery pack or generator may be necessary.
Protective gear is usually necessary in most baseball leagues. Batters are usually required to wear a batting helmet, while catchers must wear chest protectors, a catcher's mask, and shin guards. Most players will also want to purchase cleats and sunglasses. Every league team will wear at least a special jersey or t-shirt to identify itself. And most will want an equipment bag to carry gear around and make sure it doesn't get lost.
Of course, a baseball (or preferably more than one) is critical to the game. Standard baseballs are nine inches in diameter and five ounces in weight. Balls that have a leather cover usually offer the best grip, while those with a synthetic cover are usually ok for practice. Major League Baseball uses standard-seam, or rolled-seam baseballs. Usually, raised seam baseballs are better for youth leagues; these allow developing pitchers to get a better feel for the ball.
A few other extras that are not essential, but very helpful, in learning to play the game properly, include training aids such as books and videos. Batting cages are helpful for practicing batters. Speed sensors are also available to gauge the speed of a pitch.
Now that you have everything you need to start playing, it's time to get a group of players together and get a game on! Learn the basics, and have fun!