by Staff Writer
It's no accident that baseball and softball continue to grow in popularity all over the world. Including the major leagues, minor leagues, college and semi-pro teams, baseball and softball is the most widely played team sport in America. This baseball equipment buying guide will help you select baseball gear that will help you learn to swing for the fences.
Baseballs: Regulation baseballs have very little flexibility: The official league baseball is 9 inches to 9.25 inches around and weighs 5 ounces to 5.25 ounces. All baseballs are clearly marked with their intended play level, including training baseballs.
Baseball cores: Major League baseballs feature cork cores wrapped in rubber, wound in wool-cotton yarn and covered in cowhide or horsehide with rolled stitching. The rubber-wrapped cork makes the ball more durable, while the wool-heavy windings retain a more spherical shape after batting. An economy baseball may have a lower grade cork or a pure rubber core, more cotton in the thread and a synthetic cover.
Stitching: Raised stitching is usually easier to control when pitched, making balls with raised stitching excellent choices for practice or instruction. Premium hides perform more consistently, and rolled (flatter) thread creates less wind resistance. The rubber cores and synthetic covers don't stand up as well against heavy baseball equipment use, but, overall, lower grade baseballs can perform as well as premium-grade balls.
Bat materials: Every baseball bat has a "sweet spot" that delivers the most force to the ball when it connects. The size of the sweet spot is partly determined by the bat material.
Wood: Traditional wooden baseball equipment is still required in many leagues. Ash is the most popular. Hickory is falling out of favor because of its weight. Maple wood is becoming popular, but it tends to shatter rather than just crack. Look for long, thick grains which indicate a strong piece of wood.
Aluminum: Aluminum baseball bats are lighter and have a larger sweet spot than wood, giving hits more distance. There's almost no chance of splitting or breaking aluminum baseball equipment, but the bats can be dented. Aluminum bats have leather or foam grips to absorb vibration from hits, but leather provides a better grip.
Graphite or titanium: High-tech reinforcement is sometimes added to aluminum baseball equipment, allowing use of thinner aluminum, again decreasing weight while enlarging the sweet spot. Graphite or titanium also lowers the vibration of a metal baseball bat.
Bat size: The taper on most baseball bats is about 1 inch in diameter, but different overall lengths and barrels apply to different age groups in league play.
Youth: Up to 33 inches long x 2.25 inches diameter.
Adult: Up to 35 inches long x 2.625 inches diameter.
Senior: Up to 35 inches long x 2.75 inches diameter.
Bat weight: Many guidelines have been published suggesting proper baseball equipment weight for various players. A heavier bat is harder to swing, but it delivers more power to the ball on contact. These are some approximations of baseball equipment weight based on the average height for players in different age groups:
8 - 10 years old: 16 to 20 ounces.
11 - 12 years old: 18 to 23 ounces.
High school and college age: 27 to 33 ounces.
Baseball gloves: Most gloves are designed for non-catcher field positions. Catcher's mitts have a single finger pouch with a lot of padding. You can use most gloves for any position, but specific gloves for each position give you distinct advantages:
Catcher's mitt: These are heavily padded, around 31 to 33 inches around.
First base mitt: These are well padded, multi-finger mitts that have long fingers to help the player catch throws while keeping his foot on the base.
Infield glove: These gloves have shallower pockets for faster maneuverability.
Outfield glove: Much deeper pockets give you a better reach.
Glove materials: Baseball gloves are usually made of leather, but a few are made of synthetic materials. Each material has advantages.
Leather: Cow or steer hides are the baseball glove standard, but some makers use buffalo, pig, even kangaroo hides, all of which can be good leathers. Lightweight buffalo and kangaroo leathers actually last longer than steer or cow hide, but they do not hold their shape as well. Pigskin is a low-cost alternative to steer; it breaks-in quickly, but it will also wear out faster.
Full grain: Full-grain leather is "real" leather, which has not been altered beyond hair removal and tanning. Full-grain leather is the complete hide. A full-grain baseball glove needs thorough oiling and a longer break-in before use.
Premium steer hide: This is heavy, stiff steer hide, almost equal to full-grain leather. These gloves sometimes come pre-oiled and require a lot of break-in.
Top grain: Leather with the top (outermost) layers intact is called top grain. Top-grain leather is thicker and more durable for baseball equipment than split leather, suede or other cuts. Pre-oiled by some makers, this material is the standard for most baseball gloves.
Synthetic: Vinyl or plastic, synthetic baseball gloves are, comparatively, very low cost. They can retain their new-glove stiffness and will wear faster than leather gloves. Overall, synthetics make good discount baseball equipment for fast-growing younger players.