For the sake of argument, let’s assume that most young men tend to play baseball and young women tend to play softball, and that with the different sized balls used in each sport comes different gloves. The point of this article, rather, is to discern the difference between softball gloves manufacturers intend either for a man or a woman.
In softball, the gender divide is less pronounced, but it’s still there. Men almost never play fastpitch softball, while women may play either fastpitch or slowpitch, and glove manufacturers have developed a sort of code for their equipment in response. So, when a glove is marketed as a fastpitch glove, it is always made with women in mind. Slowpitch gloves may not be so constrained, but they are generally intended for men to use.
It makes sense, then, to compare the differences between slowpitch and fastpitch gloves as if they were men’s and women’s gloves. Manufacturers have figured out a way to market to one gender without excluding the other, but these gloves may essentially be used interchangeably. The differences between the two types of gloves essentially boil down to three factors.
Size of fingerstalls and opening
Being intended for women, fastpitch gloves often have smaller, tighter hand openings and skinnier fingerstalls than do slowpitch gloves because the average woman has smaller hands than the average man. At either extreme, this is not always the case, but it is true in general.
When searching for a slowpitch softball glove, a man with smaller hands would do well to research a few fastpitch gloves, some of which have larger finger stalls than others. Because a Velcro strap is often used to secure them, fastpitch gloves do not always have much smaller hand openings, either, so more men could find well-fitting fastpitch gloves than you might assume.
Also, manufacturers also tend to use finer leathers when constructing fastpitch gloves, so men who play slowpitch and want professional-quality gear will be doubly served by considering both options.
Information from Wilson on how the smaller size of gloves really makes a difference for women. If you’re looking for a fastpitch glove, please see all our reviews here.
Slowpitch softball gloves often contain only a fraction of the palm padding of fastpitch gloves. On the face of it, this would seem to make sense, because the pitcher in fastpitch softball hurls the ball so much harder than in slowpitch. However, the ball in either sport can be moving at tremendous speed at times, so equal padding would seem to make more sense.
In fact, once the ball is in play, slowpitch softball can be a faster game in general than fastpitch. Arching slow pitches are essentially sitting on a tee, and men or women who know how to hit can launch the ball a country mile. In fastpitch, there are more mis-hit balls scuttling around, and the bunt even comes into play. Men undeniably hit harder and throw faster than women on average, so the lack of padding on the men’s side is a bit puzzling.
It is also true that slowpitch softballs sometimes contain a softer core than fastpitch softballs. However, this difference effects ball travel (distance) much more than it does perceived impact at close range. Besides, depending on the league, there may be no difference in the softballs used.
Length of the glove
This is where things get simpler. The slowpitch glove and fastpitch gloves tend to be the same length at the infield positions, but they show a greater diversity in size in the outfield. While a typical fastpitch outfielder’s softball glove might measure 11.5 to 13 inches, slowpitch outfielders sometimes use gloves measuring up to 15 inches.
Sometimes marketing will lead you to believe that the bigger glove is for larger softballs. It is not. Baseball outfielders and softball outfielders use gloves of about the same dimensions, and the baseball is 2 to 3 inches smaller in diameter than the softball. Male outfielders prefer these larger gloves with their added pocket space because it helps for catching fly balls. Their hands are typically large enough to effectively operate the larger glove, so that’s what they opt for.
Women with larger hands could easily use these gloves in the outfield in slowpitch softball, but rules regulate their use in fastpitch play. Still, most fastpitch rules allow a 14-inch glove to be used, but it almost never is.
Fastpitch gloves intended for women do a better job of crossing sport and gender lines than vice versa. The fastpitch glove’s extra padding almost never hurts, and the gloves are otherwise almost identical, except for different-sized openings. In fact, many former fastpitch players simply use their old high-school glove when moving on to recreational slowpitch play.
Ultimately, it makes no difference if a softball glove was originally meant for a man or a woman. If it fit securely on your hand, and you feel confident fielding the softball, then use it. No one will ever know — or care — that you’re using a glove meant for the opposite sex. In softball, it’s not the name on the equipment that matters, it’s the skill of the person using it.
If you want to see our recommendations for what gloves are the best right now, check out the main review page.