My son loves baseball and will be entering the 11 to 12-year-old Bronco division of PONY baseball in 2016. I’ve seen a lot of baseball gifts come and go over the years.
Here’s a gift guide aimed at baseball-loving kids below the age of 11, broken down by age, so you can benefit from my 20/20 hindsight and hopefully get an idea or two. I purposely skip books as I already wrote about great baseball books elsewhere.
Gifts for Ages 0-3
You can tell if a kid will be into ball sports before the age of 2. How? They love to throw things, most especially balls. Given that these kids will throw, you want to keep them from breaking things. Give them soft things to throw. A very soft ball of any size or kind makes for a nice gift, perhaps a stocking stuffer.
Some kids show an interest in baseball before the age of 3, based on seeing a baseball game on television, seeing kids play baseball, or seeing pictures in a book. Some kids just like to throw. My son started at the age of 20 months after watching a few video scenes of baseball. He grabbed a broom and started saying the word “ball” over and over until I found a tennis ball and started pitching. The broom was 5 times longer than he was, so he couldn’t hit well. After a few days of this I went out and got him a wide, soft bat which worked much better.
The toy bat he used is no longer sold but this popular and well-loved model serves the same purpose:
Whether you choose this model or another, the key things to look for are:
- Soft bat and balls so nobody gets hurt
- Fat bat to make it easier to hit
- If your purchase includes a tee, make sure the height is adjustable.
I can’t emphasize strongly enough to use soft balls. If you push kids to go with hard balls before they have much skill, they will end up learning to be afraid of the ball which will hurt their ability to field the ball forever after.
I recommend playing catch without a glove at first, using a very soft ball and bare hands. But once they get advanced enough, you can buy a glove. It needs to fit and it needs to be easy to squeeze. See my article on youth baseball gloves for more detail.
Most kids don’t have a favorite team before the age of 3 so save buying a shirt until they’re a little older. But buying a baseball cap that fits a little head is a great idea. Baseball caps makes some toddlers feel like little baseball players and has the side benefit of protection from the sun.
Gifts for Ages 3-6
This is the age when many parents begin thinking about how to get their kids off to a good start with baseball. I think the most important thing is to praise effort, not results or talent. Do that from the outset and it will make up for many of the inevitable mistakes and setbacks.
But another important thing is something that can’t be said often enough: Don’t use hard baseballs. It just teaches bad habits associated with being afraid of the ball.
For a kid just starting, whiffle or tennis balls may be too hard. Find something squishy and soft that can’t possibly hurt. Once they exhibit some ability to catch, throw, and duck with confidence, you can graduate to whiffle balls.
I prefer whiffle balls over tennis balls because whiffles have more air resistance and therefore don’t travel as fast or far. Kids hitting whiffles off a tee can do so in a fenced back yard. Sure, some will go over the fence, but far fewer than tennis balls. And white whiffle balls are easier to find in bushes than tennis balls. Yet another advantage of whiffle balls is their usefulness years later for pre-game warm-ups.
At some point your kid will want to move to using real baseballs, and you’ll think they’re ready. That will happen anyway if they join their local youth league’s 5- to 6-year-old division. This is when it’s time for:
Level 1 balls are great and make a wonderful gift for kids aged 4-5 who have some skill and are ready for their first baseball. They have the appearance of a real baseball but they’re squishy and don’t hurt much. There’s no point in using a regular baseball or even a level 5 ball prior to age 7. The drawback to Level 1 balls is durability, especially when hit hard with bats. This is not an issue with most 5- to 6-year-olds, but it becomes an issue with anyone over the age of 6. I’ve seen an adult destroy one of these balls with a single swing.
The plastic bat and ball set mentioned in the prior section may be fine for a 3 or 4 year old but eventually your kid will transition to his first aluminum bat. T-ball bats don’t need to be expensive but they should be light and short. Buy something inexpensive as they’ll quickly outgrow the bat. At later ages, buying a bat becomes more complicated but the first T-ball bat is easy—just keep it to no more than 26″ and 14oz for a 5-year old, and smaller/lighter than this is probably better, especially for a smaller kid.
Most kids will really appreciate being taken out to a store and having some choice in picking out their bat, so a really good way to give the gift is to give them a card telling them you’ll take them to a store to buy a bat. Just be sure they don’t buy a bat that’s too heavy.
Many kids in this age range begin to root for their local major league team. They’ll appreciate getting just about anything with the local team’s logo, and most especially caps. Be careful with anything that requires a good fit, most especially gloves which are hard to squeeze if too big. See youth baseball gloves for more detail.
Most kids this age also like getting baseball cards.
Many kids this age will watch MLB baseball games and movies about baseball. A few good movies for this age that my son loved are:
Note that the last movie is a musical film with singing and dancing starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Esther Williams. It was made in 1949 in an era when women were treated and discussed in a way which was a bit different than current times.
Gifts for Ages 6-8
For a kid who is brand new to baseball you might want to look at some of the suggestions in the 3-6 year old section, as I assume in this section some experience and familiarity with baseball.
In our league, the 7- to 8-year-olds use level 5 balls and I think they’re an excellent choice for kids who have some experience. They are not as hard as the baseballs used in high school and up, but they are somewhat hard and very durable. I like this brand (be sure to select Level 5):
Other than baseballs, equipment begins to get more complex, especially bats. It’s best if parents shop with their kid for a bat, perhaps with the help of my in-depth bat buying guide.
A hitting tee is one piece of equipment that is sure to be useful for serious players. Unfortunately, most of them are junk and the good ones are relatively expensive. The safest tee to buy is the Tanner Tee, which is loved by pretty much everyone. If you want to learn more, read Hitting With a Tee and Net in your Back Yard.
Packs of baseball cards make for great gifts. Find out what teams and players the kid likes and then go to a local baseball card store for advice on getting cards that are a good match. In addition to getting a pack or two of cards, you may want to get a player-specific card or two. Getting a 3-ring binder specially designed for storing baseball cards is also nice.
Movie DVDs also make for great gifts. While kids this age will likely enjoy the movies I listed for ages 3-6, they’re also ready for some more mature movies such as:
If you are not the parent, I recommend avoiding size-sensitive equipment unless you know the size. A gift of a trip to the sports store is one way to solve the size issue.
Cleats are an especially practical gift for kids who play in a youth baseball league.
By this age, kids will have developed some strong preferences which will drive much of their equipment purchases, so make sure you know what the preferences are if you choose to buy equipment such as bats, gloves, or helmets. And you probably want to skip baseballs, which by this age is boring for kids who have been playing for a few years.
Buying a Tee or Net is very useful for more serious players, as I explain in detail in Hitting With a Tee and Net in your Back Yard. But these are relatively expensive purchases. I know from experience that buying a tee or net for less than $50 is a bad idea, as those models tend not to work well and quickly fall apart.
Baseball cards and signed baseballs make for great gifts. When I was 10 I got a baseball signed by Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski from a relative who worked for a major league team. I still cherish that gift and have it on display, along with a Mike Schmidt baseball card.
Related to signed baseballs is the gift of a really memorable experience. While it didn’t happen as a gift, my son was fortunate to be able to walk on the field of the Oakland Athletics before a game and stand next to Josh Reddick, thanks to his team selling the most Oakland A’s tickets on one of the A’s little league game days. Josh Reddick greeted him and signed a ball. My son certainly remembers this experience and I expect he’ll remember it for the rest of his life.
You probably won’t be able to replicate that exact experience, but tickets to a playoff game, or a birthday party at the batting cages are examples of other ways to have a fun and memorable experience.
Movie DVDs continue to be a good choice. Beyond the movies I mentioned for younger ages, here’s a few good ones:
Kids who are heavily into baseball will already have a lot of equipment, books, and movies by this age so if you don’t know, it’s helpful to communicate with parents to learn what they already have. Gift certificates for a local sporting goods store are a way to avoid duplication issues. It’s also a chance for a kid exercise some choice and independence.
The Best Gift of All is Your Time
Nothing delights a kid more than spending time with a parent, relative, or anyone else playing catch, throwing grounders, or pitching batting practice. If you have a chance to play ball with a kid, do it. Kids, whether yours or not, truly appreciate playing ball.
Physical gifts can be nice, but your time is even better.