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Everything You Need to Know About Little League Gloves (But Didn't Know Who to Ask)
Glove size does matter!
The slap of baseball on glove leather is second only to the crack of the bat as a sound that means baseball. Hearing the sound instantly transports many of us back to our childhoods, playing catch with our fathers in backyards.
Now, youre the parent, and your kid needs a ball glove. When you were a kid, there were essentially two choices: Rawlings youth model or Wilson youth model. So you are unprepared for what you find when you journey to your local sporting goods megastore and discover wave upon wave of "youth" models from six or seven different manufacturers. Now what?
Relax. Here's what you need to know.
GLOVE OR MITT?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably by people at all levels of baseball, gloves and mitts are actually two different things. Gloves have fingers. Mitts don't. (Think "mittens.") Mitts are worn by catchers and first basemen; everyone else wears a glove.
Little League requires that all catchers wear a catcher's mitt. First basemen can wear either a first baseman's mitt or a glove.
Catcher's mitts and first baseman's mitts look similar but are actually designed quite differently. Catcher's mitts are designed for maximum protection, with extremely thick leather in the palm and thick padding all around the sides. Catcher's mitts have shallow pockets so a catcher can get rid of the ball quickly in case the runner steals, and they are rounded and wide to make it easier to block a ball in the dirt. First baseman's mitts offer more protection than a standard fielder's glove, but they are far less heavy than catcher's mitts. They are elongated to assist a standing first baseman in scooping low throws out of the dirt, and they have deep pockets to help keep the ball from popping out.
Gloves come in different styles as well, but they are far less specialized than mitts. For adults, smaller gloves with shallower pockets are used for infielders, with the smallest and shallowest usually being used by second basemen. Small gloves are easier to maneuver quickly, and shallow pockets make for quicker transfers to the throwing hand. Larger gloves with deeper pockets are generally used by outfielders. Pitchers and third basemen usually use an intermediate style. For Little Leaguers, though, glove size usually corresponds to the size of the kid, not the glove's intended use.
In addition, the webbing of the glove can be "open", meaning that it has areas you can see through, or "closed." Whether to choose one web style or the other at the Little League level is purely personal preference. At higher levels, pitchers usually choose "closed" web designs in order to prevent the batters from seeing their finger placement on the ball. Both infielders and outfielders use both types of webs at all levels.
Gloves also come in a variety of colors, ususally brown and black but sometimes blue and even red. Multi-colored patterns have increased in popularity in recent years. In any event, color is purely a matter of style. Keep in mind, though, that most baseball leagues prohibit the use of a multi-colored glove by the pitcher. Laces and brand emblems do not seem to be part of this rule. If you child is likely to pitch, stick with a glove that has leather that is all one color.
A glove's size is measured by the length of the glove along a line from the top of the index finger, through the pocket to the bottom edge of the glove. Most gloves have the size printed somewhere on the glove, often in the palm or along the back edge of the pinky finger. Little League Baseball prohibits the use of gloves larger than 12 inches. Your child's glove should be substantially smaller than this--12 inches is larger than the gloves used by most Major League infielders.
Little Leaguers should use smaller, not larger, gloves. Resist the temptation to let your child use that old, well broken-in glove you used in high school or for Slo-pitch. Larger gloves may seem easier to use when you are just playing catch, but in a game it is different. In games, everything happens much faster, and your kid will be trying to catch and field balls in all sorts of different positions. Smaller gloves are easier to maneuver and easier to dig a ball out of after the catch. That's why Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra uses an 11 1/4" glove; other major-league middle infielders use gloves as small as 10 inches.
You can figure that you'll need to buy your kid a new glove at least twice in a typical progression from Teeball to Major Division. Below is a chart of recommended glove sizes. If your child is particularly large or small for his or her age, adjust the sizes accordingly, but I recommend a maximum of 11 1/4" in Little League no matter how big the kid.
Level (age).............Glove size
Teeball (5-6)..........8 to 9 inches Farm (6-8)..............9 to 9 inches Jr. Minors (8-10).....9 to 10 inches Sr. Minors (9-12)....10 to 11 inches Majors (10-12)........10 to 11.25 inches; 11.5 for 1st basemen
Catchers' mitts are measured by circumference. However, for some reason, catchers' mitts often do not have their size printed on them. But it is particularly important that a young catcher have a glove that is small and light enough to maneuver easily. All the major manufacturers offer "youth" sized catchers' mitts; stick with these rather than an adult sized mitt. Youth-sized catchers' mitts are usually 31" or 32", while adult-sized catchers mitts range from 33" to 36".
First baseman's mitts are measured the same way as fielding gloves.
Manufacturers usually tout a glove's materials whenever they are made of something considered "premium" enough to provide a selling point. If a glove is made of full-grain leather or premium steerhide, the two top grades, the manufacturer will definitely print that fact prominently on the glove.
Top-quality leather makes the best gloves, but the reality is, for a kid's glove that will be outgrown and discarded after two years, premium materials are nice but not crucial. If you want to hand down gloves between siblings, though, buy the best glove you can find.
Leather tanning processes
The original and ancient method of turning animal skins into leather is known as "vegetable tanning," which means the skins are tanned with tree bark or tree-bark extracts containing tannin. Vegetable-tanned leather undergoes a lengthy tanning process that results in a leather that is flexible and has superior moldability. The other primary method of tanning, invented in the 1860's, is called "chrome tanning," in which the skins are tanned with mineral salts. Chrome tanning can be done in a fraction of the time of vegetable tanning, and results in a stronger, more abrasion-resistant leather. Almost all baseball gloves today are chrome tanned leather. "Oil tanning" is a specialized process that is rarely seen today; to my knowledge it is used exclusively in split leathers such as chamois and buckskin. Rawlings claims to use oil-tanned leather in some of their gloves; more likely the leather is chrome tanned and then oiled.
Leather grades and types
Buffalo skin. Buffalo skin is used by only one manufacturer: Nokona. Buffalo skin is said to be tougher and lighter than full grain steer hide, but breaks in just as easily. Most people aren't going to want to get a Little Leaguer a buffalo skin glove, but hey--if you want it, it's out there.
Full grain leather. "Full-grain leather" is steer hide or cow hide leather on which the entire natural grain remains. It will either be the original thickness of the skin, or the bottom grain (the meat side) will have been sanded off until the leather is the desired thickness. This grade is uncommon in youth gloves, but is readily available in premium adult gloves that come in sizes suitable for older Little Leaguers. Although in theory full grain leather can be any weight, in practice, gloves made of full grain leather tend to be stiffer and heavier than other types, and require longer break-in periods. These leathers are rarely pre-oiled, because the players who buy gloves of this quality usually want to apply their own particular break-in method. Once broken in, full grain leather gloves are superior in both performance and durability. Catchers' mitts are almost always made of full grain leather or premium steer hide.
Top grain leather. "Top grain leather" is a misnomer; it is usually leather in which the "top" grain (the fur side) is sanded off until the leather is a desired thickness, then the leather is filled or treated and an artificial grain is introduced, usually by pressing. Many gloves probably are top grain leather, but the manufacturers may not always use the phrase to describe the leather. Often they use a brand name instead. Nokona is the only manufacturer that says its gloves use "top grain leather." In Nokona's case, the leather is heavy weight and very durable. Wilson's "Quick-Stop" leather is also a top grain leather; it is medium weight and has average durability.
Premium steer hide. Steer hide, which comes from neutered bulls, is somewhat stronger than cow hide. Manufacturers are free to call any steer hide "premium," but in practice they reserve this designation for their better grades of heavy weight steer hide, usually top grain, occasionally full grain. Gloves made of this leather tend to be stiff and somewhat heavy, with longer break-in periods. These leathers are sometimes pre-oiled. Many manufacturers have gone away from premium steerhide both because the market now demands softer gloves, and to save money because few consumers know the difference.
Unlike the term "full grain," "premium steer hide" and "top grain leather" are terms that do not have standardized meanings, so examine the material and use your informed judgment.
Steer hide. Some manufacturers' have a grade of steer hide not designated as "premium" or with a brand name. Steerhide will invariably be heavy-weight and durable.
Leather or cow hide. "Leather" means cow hide, usually medium weight, but sometimes heavy weight. This category encompasses the greatest range of quality. Cow hide performs well but will break in faster and wear out faster than steer hide. Usually this grade will come "pre-oiled" or otherwise treated to "reduce break-in time." Cow hide is probably the best all-around choice for a youth glove once your child hits 10 years old. Leather glove bargains abound in the $25-$40 range.
Kangaroo skin. Kangaroo skin is stronger than steer hide of any grade, and weighs a fraction as much. It is new to the baseball glove market, though, and what grades are being used is anybody's guess. Some manufacturers use kangaroo only in premium gloves; others use it only in budget gloves. Early reports say it breaks in easily but doesn't hold its shape as well as the better cow hide or steer hide grades. Often gloves are made with steer hide or cow hide palms for durability, and kangaroo skin backs for light weight
Pigskin. Pigskin is far less durable than cowhide. However, it is more flexible and breaks in far more easily than cowhide, and costs less. Pigskin can be ideal for a youngster who wants a good-performing glove but who may grow out of it in a year. Ideal for Jr. Minors.
Man-made materials. The lowest-cost gloves consist of man-made materials. Try to get a glove with a palm and pocket that looks and feels like leather. Avoid slick, glossy plastic, which performs poorly and wears out quickly. Sometimes you can find good, inexpensive gloves that have leather palms and man-made backs; such designs are a good compromise. Also good bets are gloves that are engineered to make closure easier, such as the Mizuno V-Flex and Wilson Pro-Pleat. Acceptable in Teeball and Farm.
Laces. The only proper material to use in lacing baseball gloves is rawhide, the most durable and abrasion resistant material available. Some manufacturers use plain leather or even vinyl in the lacing of their budget gloves. Vinyl lacing should be avoided like the plague at any level above teeball. It won't last a full season.
Choosing the Proper Baseball Glove for your TEE BALL player
In Tee Ball, the most important piece of equipment is the glove. A glove can have a big effect on a players performance. In baseball glove selection, the number of choices is staggering! Not only are there gloves for specific positions (Catchers glove, 1st Basemans glove, Infielders, and Outfielders glove), gloves come in all types of qualities, sizes and colors.The key to a glove is control. The Tee Ball player should be able to move the glove quickly to the ball, which requires a glove that's not too big and heavy for him or her. And even more importantly, the player must also be able to close the glove with his hand, so that the ball does not fall out. This requires a glove that is soft and broken in enough so that the player can close the glove and 'squeeze' the ball. It is recommended that a glove be in proportion to the player's size. There are many professional gloves in the market today that are more suitable for catching bowling balls than baseballs. You want to avoid having a young Tee Ball player
lugging around huge 13-inch outfielder's gloves. A bigger glove is not a bigger target and will not make it easier for a Tee Ball player to catch. Actually a glove that is too big will have an adverse effect on performance. The player will have no glove control at all. Tee Ball glove sizes begin around the 9-inch range, the measurement is usually listed on the glove itself. The new, pre-oiled gloves are usually excellent for Tee
Ballers, as they are soft and require little or no break-in. For a very small child, or one with less strength than his peers, there are vinyl gloves, or combination vinyland-leather models. These are very inexpensive and, while they will not last as long as higher quality gloves, they bend easily and allow the player to catch the ball from day one. There are also full leather gloves in the under-11 inch size, which cost more, last longer, and might require some break-in. Some new models even have a notch designed into the heel of the glove to allow easy and immediate flexing of the pocket. As much as you want to buy the best for your kid, avoid the expensive, stiff gloves
for players under 10 or so. They'd have to play eight hours a day, seven days a week, for six months before it gets broken in. And in that time, they'd make so many errors that they'd be shopping for soccer cleats by then!
Breaking-in The Glove
There are as many different methods to breaking-in a glove. Some ideas that we have heard of are quite outlandish. However, the easiest and most effect method we have come across is from Rawlings.
Rawlings' "master glove designer" recommends:
1. Press a small amount of shaving cream with lanoline on a clean, dry cloth and carefully work the cream around the outer shell, palm, and back. A light coating is all that is necessary. This will lubricate the
2. Allow the cream to dry thoroughly for 12 to 24 hours.
3. Wipe off the glove and play catch for 10-15 minutes, or 50 to 70 throws. This stretches and conforms the glove to your hand and speeds the break-in process,
4. Position a ball in the pocket and tie the glove closed for a few days with a string or rubber band around the outer perimeter. An option is to use the new Rawlings "Mitt Kit", which is designed to quickly form the
'ideal' pocket. It includes a double-ended pocket form with a large sphere on one end and a smaller sphere on the other, to form the pocket and the web area simultaneously, and a wide elastic 'figure 8' to hold the glove firmly around the form.
5. As the glove starts to break in, pour a small amount of 'Glovolium' on a clean, dry cloth, and carefully work the oil around the outer shell, palm, and back. A light coating is all that's needed.
6. Allow the glove to dry thoroughly for 24 hours so the oil has time to penetrate and condition the leather.
7. Store the glove in a cool, dry place with a ball in the pocket, or a Mitt Kit when not in use.
8. Lace will stretch with use. Keep laces taut but do not overtighten. Check for replacement if necessary after each season.
9. Do not over oil your glove! Twice a season is sufficient!