To the passive spectator, slowpitch and fastpitch softball probably seem very similar. However, the games differ in some fundamental ways. Because base stealing and bunting are a big part of fastpitch softball, for example, the game moves faster than slowpitch, where base runners usually must wait until the batter makes contact to leave their base.
However, when it comes to the gloves, most fastpitch and slowpitch gloves are essentially interchangeable. Manufacturers do have reasons to differentiate between the two, though. Let’s look at some of the (usually slight) differences between the gloves used in the two variants of softball.
The Catcher’s Mitt – fundamentally different
When it comes to the catcher’s position, the mitts intended for slowpitch and fastpitch differ drastically. The reasons boil down to the different requirements for catchers in the two variants of the game. The fundamentals of catching in fastpitch softball are sufficiently different from those in slowpitch to necessitate a different mitt.
Protecting the Hand
Fastpitch catchers have roles that differ very little from those in baseball. They are required to repeatedly receive fast-moving pitches (sometimes in excess of 70 m.p.h.), which means their hands take a beating. Fastpitch mitts are therefore heavily padded to provide protection against this abuse.
A Faster Game
Also, fastpitch softball rules allow for base stealing, and the bunt (or slash) is therefore a big part of the game. Some teams rely heavily on speed, and small ball comes into play to varying degrees in every game. Fastpitch catcher’s mitts usually have smaller pockets to accommodate the speedy transfers necessary at the position.
Being a Wall
Finally, because base runners can advance on passed balls in fastpitch softball, catchers are required to block balls in the dirt. The circumference of their mitts is usually relatively wide to facilitate blocking and/or scooping wild pitches.
The slowpitch catcher has none of these issues. The slower, higher-arcing pitches are easily handled by almost any glove or mitt on the field. Base runners are not allowed to leave base until the batter makes contact, so speed is less of an issue and bunts are rare. The catcher has no real need for a quick transfer, so pocket depth is unimportant.
Pitchers – A subtle difference
Pitchers in fastpitch softball are doing essentially the same thing as those in baseball. As the adage goes, if hitting is all timing, then pitching is attempting to mess up that timing. Pitchers do this by altering either the speed or the movement of the pitch. The means for altering the pitch is the grip. But, if a hitter can see the grip, they have an advantage in timing its arrival at the plate.
Hiding the Ball
In fastpitch softball, the pitcher must hide their grip on the ball from the hitter to keep them guessing. This is the main reason pitchers in fastpitch softball tend to prefer a closed web. At lower levels of play (below college), the pitcher likely plays other positions, and so may use multiple gloves. Or, she may decide to use an open-web design and hide the grip in other ways.
Pitching or Tossing?
In slowpitch softball, the pitcher has fewer options for disrupting the hitter’s timing, and the grip is not as big of a factor. Therefore, slowpitch pitchers have no need to worry about the webbing in their gloves, and tend to choose gloves that best suit the position(s) they play when not pitching.
Other positions – essentially the same
Once the ball is in play, the differences between the two main softball variants pretty much disappear. While the distance between the bases may change at the upper levels of men’s slowpitch softball, there are very few differences otherwise. A ball that a hitter stings in either game will be moving quickly, and some padding will be appreciated on hard-hit liners.
In either variant, infielders are required to make quick transfers, as the hitter should be chugging down the line at full speed. Infielder’s gloves have correspondingly small pockets to make that transition smoother and quicker. Likewise, outfielders need larger gloves and deeper pockets to make up for small misjudgments in the flight of fly balls and help secure the ball.
When you see sizes in gloves that run larger in slowpitch position players’ gloves than in their fastpitch counterparts’ gloves, it can usually be attributed to the fact that more men play slowpitch softball. Fastpitch gloves are, in turn, designed more with a female player in mind. Because men tend to have larger hands than women, their gloves are correspondingly larger. Slowpitch gloves and fastpitch gloves can essentially be used interchangeably, and the descriptions could just as well be changed to men’s and women’s gloves.
Finally, have a look at the following video with nice summary from Dick’s Sporting goods.
Also don’t forget to see our recommendations on the best gloves for both slowpitch and fastpitch, and check out this overview.