When searching for a new softball glove, it is easy to get lost in the sea of available options. The player’s age and position on the field will help you find the size and type of glove or mitt you need, but there are still more choices to sift through.
Softball glove prices can vary wildly. The reason: materials. A closer look at the different materials manufacturers use to make their gloves should help explain the issue and help you make a decision that fits your player and your budget.
Synthetics: Worth the trouble?
Softball glove materials can be broken down into two main categories: leather and synthetic. Man-made synthetic materials have never gained traction in softball, and there are several reasons for players’ aversion to these gloves.
Synthetics never get any more pliable (break in) than they are when purchased. Essentially plastic, they will remain stiff and slick throughout their lives. Stiffness makes these gloves difficult to close, and slickness means the ball will slide in the pocket.
Synthetic gloves also have a limited life span because the stitching materials degrade over a short amount of time. These gloves are cheap for a reason. Synthetic gloves almost never last more than one season, and the cost of repeated replacements can soon equal the cost of a leather glove.
That said, if the player is very young, such as tee-ball age, these gloves might seem reasonable because they will quickly be outgrown. Also, if money is tight, the low price of a synthetic glove might seem attractive. However, a leather glove will give your child her best chance for success on the field and avoid her picking up bad habits because her equipment performs poorly.
Leather: The Choice of Serious Players
Real leather is the first choice of experienced players, and for good reason. Once broken in, leather becomes soft and pliable, which aids in feel. Leather’s durability means it provides protection and longevity that synthetics cannot match. If properly cared for, a leather softball glove will last through several seasons and only get better. The type and quality of leather used in a softball glove is the main determining factor in its price.
Full-grain leather, one of the more affordable options in quality softball gloves, is cow hide that has not been subjected to any processing, such as sanding. The “grain” of the leather is permeable, allowing it to absorb conditioners and allowing it to stretch and form around the player’s hand. You can find full-grain leather gloves pre-conditioned with various oils, or you can find them in their natural state. Bear in mind, though, that gloves without these oils will require more break-in time.
Another common choice for leather gloves, but one that normally costs more, is steer hide. This leather is thicker and its grain is courser, allowing more conditioning agents into the material. Its added weight might be a drawback to a younger player, but it makes the glove extremely durable. However, that durability comes at the cost of a longer break-in period.
Calfskin, or kip, is another premium option in softball gloves. Calfskin is thinner and lighter than steer and full-grain leather, with a tighter grain. This combination makes for a softer material, but one that is still breathable and tough. It is also easier to break in than the other options, and will be ready for play soon after it is purchased.
Some of the more exotic materials in softball gloves include kangaroo and yak leathers. Kangaroo leather has the benefit of being both thin and strong. Its tendency to stretch makes for a quick break-in time, but may also shorten its useful life. Yak leather is also thin and strong, because it retains skin fibers that other leathers lose in manufacturing. Both materials are extremely durable, but they also tend to be pricier than more traditional leather options.
If money is an issue, and your player is relatively young, you might consider buying a pigskin glove. Pigskin may seem equal to the others in the store, but it lacks durability and will require replacing much sooner than premium leather gloves. Pigskin, though, is a viable option if your only other choice is a synthetic glove.
No matter which leather you opt for, proper care will ensure your glove lasts for years. Use a soft, clean cloth and choose only cleaners and conditioners intended for use in baseball and softball gloves. Careful maintenance and thoughtful off-season storage will ensure that your glove remains playable for many seasons. It will only get better with age.