As I enter into my sixth year as a youth baseball dad (and sometimes manager or coach), I have noticed a few patterns for players struggling to catch a baseball or field a grounder:
- Fielding skills need many repetitions in order to fully develop.
- Field bumpiness can make grounders hard to field.
- Lapses of attention can be a factor, especially at ages 8 and below.
But some fielding difficulty has to do with not having the right glove. So here’s a short guide for how to get the right glove, for players aged 12 or younger.
The most obvious sign that your kid has the wrong glove: The ball often pops out after a catch. Less obvious but more telling: Can’t easily squeeze the pocket of the glove shut. Why does this happen? It can be for one of three reasons:
- The glove is too big.
- The glove is too stiff.
- The glove is poorly constructed.
When shopping for a glove, it’s tempting to go for a high quality, stiff, glove that will last for years. This is a great approach for adult and high school players who play frequently. However, if you follow this approach for a kid, you’ll be tempted to get something a little too big so your kid doesn’t quickly outgrow it. Don’t do this.
There are several techniques for breaking in a glove, which makes it easier to open and close the pocket. One common technique is to oil the glove, put a baseball in the pocket, and then weight it shut overnight. However, it is still going to be hard to squeeze and control if it’s too big. You’re much better off acquiring a glove that fits well. It can be a used, broken-in glove from an older kid who no longer needs it, or a new glove that’s pre-broken in.
If you have an opportunity to get a used glove, make sure your kid tests it. One test is to see how easy it is to open and close the pocket. The other test is to play catch for 5 minutes and see if it’s easy to catch the ball. Your kid will know.
Buying a new glove is hard if you consider all possibilities. Many gloves will be stiff and require a break-in procedure before you can even tell if they’ll work out. Even after the oil-and-keep-shut treatment, some gloves will need dozens of hours of use to sufficiently break in. It is certainly possible to get a good, stiff, glove and break it in properly—and then have it work very well. It happens all the time. But why take a chance on breaking in an expensive glove when your kid will just outgrow it in a couple years? Or maybe even lose it in a couple months?
So simplify your life. Don’t get an expensive, stiff new glove. Many models are already easy to open or close. In my experience, the best brand for pre-broken-in youth gloves is Mizuno, thanks to their patented power close technology. I once presented a Mizuno glove to my son just before a game started, and he used it with no issues for that game.
This is that glove:
Our Mizuno Prospect Series gloves have cost $45-$55. I can’t speak to Mizuno’s more expensive models, but I can say that Mizuno Prospect series gloves have two minor down sides.
- They don’t last as long as gloves that are stiff when new. This is not a big deal as my son is always ready for the next size up by the time the glove wears out.
- The model numbers and names change frequently. My son loved the Mizuno Prospect Series GPP1152 so we wanted to get the same thing but a half size larger when it wore out. It was discontinued and it took me at least half an hour to figure out that the Mizuno Youth GPL1203 Prospect Fielder’s Mitt was pretty much the same thing, just half a size bigger. As far as I can tell, if it has Mizuno and Prospect somewhere in the name, it will be similar to the glove my son likes.
If you see “fastpitch” in the glove description, then it’s for softball, not baseball. A baseball will easily pop out of a pocket that is designed for softball, so only get a fastpitch glove for playing softball.
This link displays all Mizuno prospect gloves on Amazon except for fastpitch models:
You may be tempted to get position-specific gloves. Don’t. Below the age of 11, most youth baseball teams will rotate players through several positions. Even at the 11-12 year old level there’s position rotation. It is usually not until around ages 13 and older that players specialize in a single position, so that’s when you may want to start thinking about getting a glove that is position specific.
The one exception is if your son is a catcher. You need extra padding from hard throwing pitchers. You may be able to use a catcher’s mitt provided by your league, but if not, I again prefer pre-broken-in Mizuno. I purchased a Mizuno Catcher’s Mitt for my son after he struggled with balls popping out of the mitt provided by the league. Now he can catch.
The sizing on Mizuno Prospect models appears in the first three digits of the model number. For example, the 115 in GPP1152 means 11.5”. And the 120 in the GPL1203 translates to 12.0”.
The sizing measurements for gloves are not perfectly consistent between brands. Size refers to the distance from the top of the index finger by the pocket down to the palm heel bottom. Generally, infielders prefer smaller gloves while outfielders prefer larger gloves.
An easy way to get the right size of Mizuno glove is to use their find-the-perfect-glove tool. There are a series of questions, including player age.
One question asked by the Mizuno tool is how many games you play per year. If you answer anything more than 0-15 games per year, Mizuno tries to upsell you a more expensive, durable model. I can’t really speak to the quality of the more expensive models, but I doubt they’re necessary for kids below age 12, no matter how much they play. My son has participated in something like 60 games and 120 practices since he started using his GPL1203 a year and a half ago. It cost around $50. It’s fine for now and may be able to make it until he’s 12, when it will be time for another glove anyway.
I will probably go with a more expensive, durable model that takes longer to break in when he turns 12 (update: He did get an expensive glove a few months before he turned 12, which he started using full time half a year later – see comments for more detail). Throws will come in harder, the number of games he plays per year may increase, and we won’t have to worry about his hand quickly outgrowing the glove.
If I had to do it all over again we would still go with Mizuno Prospect gloves from age 5 to 11. They can be used immediately, they easily mold to fit, and they’re comfortable. Most importantly, he catches the ball.