Baseball and softball are similar in many ways, including most game rules, positions, and gear. But if you look a little closer, you'll notice a difference in one essential piece of equipment; softballs are bigger than baseballs, so the gloves and webbing are bigger to catch them. This difference also helps explain the variation between baseball and softball pitches.
Legend has it that softball started at a football game on Thanksgiving Day in 1887. The first ball was a balled-up boxing glove, and the bat was a broom handle. Softball gloves evolved as much as the bats and balls have over the years. Changes began in the 1920s when substantial padding was added to protect players' hands from injury.
This move sparked more modifications, including the addition of laced fingers and webbing. Today's softball gloves are equipped with a range of specific features for each position on the field. The number of choices can be overwhelming, but don't worry. Academy Sports + Outdoors is here to help.
Anatomy of a Softball Glove
The 4 Main Parts of a Glove
- Webbing: the area between your thumb and fingers. It can be woven tightly or left open based on preference and position
- Fingers: the fingers secure and support your four fingers and thumb
- Palm: the 'pocket' in the center of your glove used to catch and secure the ball
- Heel: Located below the palm directly above the point where your hand meets your wrist
To choose the correct handedness, use the hand you throw with
- If you throw with your right arm, wear a Right-Hand Throw (RHL) softball glove on your left hand.
- If you throw with your left arm, wear a Left-Hand Throw (LHT) softball glove on your right hand.
Finding the Right Softball Glove
To find the best glove for you, consider the requirements of your position.
Extra-cushioned softball mitts for catchers keep your fingers together and come with a large palm to make catching more comfortable and consistent. First base players prefer mitts with deep pockets and some cushion, but they also need long, shallow fingers for easy scooping.
Both pitchers and third-base players may opt for closed webbing but for different reasons. Hard hits that trend toward third base require the strength and support of close webbing, and the design is also ideal for pitchers who want to mask their next move. Infielders use smaller gloves with shallow pockets and open webs so they can quickly retrieve and throw balls.
If you're an amateur or shopping for a kid, you'll want a multipurpose glove to help you learn and practice different positions. Ask the following questions to choose the perfect fit for you
- Deep or shallow pockets? Go deep for comfort and consistency and shallow if you want a quick catch and throw.
- Open or closed webbing? Go open for more flexibility and closed for support or secrecy.
- More or less padding? Get more for increased protection and less for more sensitivity to the ball.
- Leather or synthetic? Classic leather gloves tend to be more durable, while synthetic gloves are lighter and less expensive.
- Velcro or D-ring wrist adjustments? Pick your preference for a custom fit.
Choosing the Right Size
Flex your hand and measure from the tip of your index finger to the start of your wrist. Glove sizes are measured by inches so be sure to write this number down. The right-sized glove will feel snug - not tight - and can vary by age or position. Catcher's mitts are measured by circumference instead of length to provide a better idea of the catching area.
Remember, kids' softball gloves should be snug, too. Parents often make the mistake of buying a glove their child can 'grow into,' but doing so can lead to injuries and errors.
Slow-Pitch vs. Fast-Pitch
Slow-pitch softball is played recreationally by adult men and women, while fast-pitch softball is a competitive sport for women of all ages. In addition to position-based differences in glove size, men's slow-pitch gloves typically have wider, longer fingers than women's slow-pitch gloves. Check the label to make sure you buy the right size for your gender.
How to Break in a Softball Glove
When you first purchase a glove, you'll need to spend some time breaking it in to get the soft, supple touch you need to play at your best.
Here are some of the top methods and glove care accessories to help break in your glove without causing damages:
Play catch. Follow tradition and toss a ball back and forth with someone to shape your glove's interior pocket. Use a mallet. To speed up the process, beat the pocket with a glove mallet to mold it to the proper shape and softness. Wrap it up.
When you're not wearing it, fold the palm of your glove around a softball as if the fingers were gripping it. Then, slip a glove wrap on top to keep it secure. Add conditioner. Moisturizing leather with glove conditioner or oil softens the material and makes it more workable. Steam it.
Steaming can also relax leather and improve flexibility. To avoid damage, find a professional who offers this service.
Tips to Care for a Softball Glove
You can't spell glove without L-O-V-E. Use these tips to give your glove a little extra TLC, and keep it looking and feeling good for the games to come:
First, grab a bristle brush and a clean rag. For leather gloves, find a quality leather-safe cleaner and conditioner. Try a mild detergent for synthetic designs.
- Use the brush to remove large clumps of dirt.
- Apply the leather-safe cleaner or mild detergent to a cloth.
- Use the cloth to gently rub off any remaining dirt particles.
- Finally, moisturize leather gloves with a bit of conditioner, but don't overdo it – too much conditioner can build up and attract more dirt.
Don't replace - re-lace. If your glove needs a new set of laces, use a knife or U-wire and a straight-lace grooved needle to remove and replace one lace at a time. You'll need approximately three to six new laces, depending on your glove's size and the number of laces damaged or worn.
Keep your glove dry and protected during the off-season to help extend its life. Avoid leaving it in a humid gear bag or exposed to outdoor conditions. Find a cool, dry storage space indoors, and keep a ball stored inside the pocket to help your glove keep its shape.