Softball is a huge marketplace, full of growing players who constantly need upgrades in equipment. To compete for your hard-earned dollars, manufacturers will say almost anything to make their equipment sound enticing. Knowing which features are important and which are essentially snake oil can mean the difference between getting the best glove you can afford and wasting money on gimmicks.
It is easy to get caught up in the hype. No player wants to be ostracized because of her equipment. But most of the best players care little about such things. They let their play on the field speak for them, not the cost of the gloves on their hands. The following is a brief list of some of the things that matter in a softball glove, followed by a few things that are not worth spending your time — or your money — worrying about.
The first factor that determines the type of glove you will need is what position you will play on the field. Each position has its own idiosyncrasies, and you will need a specific glove to play in certain areas on the field. Knowing where you will be playing will help you narrow down the mountain of choices to a smaller hill of gloves.
First basemen and catchers both use mitts that are useful only at those positions. Outfielders’ gloves have long fingers to help get to balls that are at the edge of a players reach, as well as deep pockets to help secure fly balls. Infielders’ gloves are smaller, with shorter fingers and shallower pockets to help speed up transfers to the throwing hand on ground balls.
Position players can use either open or closed webs, but pitchers should use closed webs to hide their grips on the ball. Utility gloves often have the preferred characteristics of several positions, and are a good choice for players who move around the field.
Infielders tend to prefer shorter gloves and outfielders tend to use longer ones, but these are preferences. The right length glove is the one the player can use to field her position with confidence. Sizing charts are readily available to show typical glove sizes by position, but they are simply a reference.
A glove’s fit is more important. Purchasing a glove that is too large with the expectation that the player will grow into it is a common pitfall. Players with oversized gloves make compensatory movements that become bad habits. Be sure your player’s glove fits securely on her hand, and that she can close it around a ball without too much effort.
When a player is very young, practically any material is fine to use. Synthetics have their place, but as players get older and play improves, it is time to step up to quality leather. Synthetics cannot match leather in durability or feel. Leather gloves do not have to break the bank. As newer gloves come on the market each season, previous models go on sale and become more affordable. With effort, you can find a quality glove to suit your players needs on almost any budget.
Probably the least important part of a softball glove is the embroidered patch with the manufacturer’s logo on it. An expensive glove won’t make you a better player, and the best players can strap cardboard on their hands and still shine. Paying extra for quality materials is understandable, but paying more for a brand name is not.
Some of the most expensive gloves utilize exotic leathers that manufacturers tout as being super materials. Some of these gloves are certainly functional, but ultimately many of these leathers are unnecessary. Kangaroo is pliable and strong, but does not outperform top-grain cow leather in any discernible way. Steer hide is strong as well, but breaks in slowly. Pre-oiled leather breaks in fast, but it costs more for something you can do yourself with some forethought.
A lining material inside a glove can make it more comfortable for a while, but it is extraneous. Some manufacturers tout their liners as moisture wicking, but most textiles are moisture wicking. And the moisture that is wicked has nowhere to go inside the glove. Essentially, they just place wet cloth against the skin. Generations of players have played the game without space-age materials sopping the sweat off their hands, yet they survived.
The Bottom Line
All a player needs to play softball successfully is a glove that fits and suits the positon they play. Many of the features that manufacturers brag about are at best unnecessary, and at worst a rip off. That is not to say that exotic features do not make for a better glove — sometimes they do. But often, as parents, we let our desire to provide our child with the best possible opportunity to succeed cloud our judgement, and we fall for expensive gimmicks that do nothing of the sort. Knowing the difference can save money better used on other things, even if they don’t involve softball.
Now that you know what to focus on when choosing a glove, check out our reviews of the best softball gloves available.