And yes, they LOVE the honking base
I remember it well. Gus was four, and signed up for his first year of BlastBall!, the hilarious version of America’s Pastime filled with scrums for the ball, dirt castles in the infield, and those first sparks of love for playing ball.
I wasn’t the coach yet, having agreed to assist Coach Brown’s Nationals, but unable to get over the betrayal I felt in my heart putting on the colors of one of the Mets NL East rivals, (“Sorry Dave,” I said, “it just makes me feel dirty.”) But I distinctly remember one game when we corralled the heard of cats enough to play a team that I only remember as “The Grabbers.”
I’m sure they had some Major League team name as did we, but I will only remember them by that name because of their coach. As we were warming up before the game, their team manager came running up to me and said, “You know, you aren’t doing those kids any favors letting them wear gloves at this age. We have all our kids play barehanded and it is much better for them.”
So, first, let me just say to everyone out there who is or is even remotely considering being a youth coach—don’t do this. I’ll get to some on-the-field etiquette when it comes to coaching in another post, but, unless what the other coach is doing creates some kind of unfair situation within a game, leave it alone and remember that there are many ways to be a successful coach—not just yours.
Given I was just tossing the kids a few grounders, and really had no experience coaching kids, I was a bit taken aback by the forcefulness of Manager Know-It-All J. Moose’s convictions. “Oh, okay. I blurted in response. “I’ll let Coach Brown know.” When I went back and told Dave about it, he shrugged his shoulders indifferently—the appropriate response, I do believe.
I swear they were in perfect fielding position!
When the game began, it was the usual maelstrom of cute. But one thing I did notice is that when a ball was hit near one of our fielders, they by-in-large attempted to use their glove like a spoon to scoop up the grounder; albeit our gals and guys spent more time chasing after the ball after it squirmed around or through them than they did actually making the play. The Grabbers, however, were actually doing a actually stopping more than they booted, much to the satisfaction of Coach K-i-A. That said, almost to a player, they would stop the ball by squating down and grabing the ball as if they were plucking a flower. They would then quickly apply the same skillset to the resident Dandelions.
It was at that moment that I really began to inculcate one of my baseline coaching mottos: for young players, technique is far more important than result. For early success doing things the wrong way will lead to far more issues down the line than a few more botched BlastBall blasts.
And so if you are just getting your little one into the game, my strong recommendation is that you get your gal or guy a glove. The strength of my recommendation is that fielding a ground ball is really the opposite of our instinct when we look to pick things up off the ground. We are, by nature, grabbers. When we see little Billy’s stray Lego threatening to transform into a late-night landmine, we don’t put both hands down and scoop with one hand and secure with the other. We reach down and pick it up. Because that’s natural, it will in the early stages of baseball clearly lead to a better early fielding percentage when those big puffy balls come tumbling forward. But to my mind, it reinforces a habit that will not benefit them in the long run.
So that’s the when and the why of gloves—now onto the what. Let me first start by recommending that you do not buy your four or five-year-old a nice, leather glove. For the most part, the very small leather gloves tend to be stiff and even if they are not, they’re fairly heavy. The key I’ve found is that you want to make sure that young kids have the sensation of the glove without it being cumbersome. While some young kids can handle it, for beginners, it’s more like putting a giant mitten on their hand and then telling them to go do something athletic with it.
So save your money and go with the cheap stuff to start out with. In that regard, there are three types of gloves I’ve tried out for the first-time players. Let me give you the skinny on those:
Soft Foam Glove: These are the gloves you’ll mostly see available at Target, Toys-R-Us, and at some sporting goods stores for youth players. You can find them in more standard designs or in anything from Spongebob to Dora.
- Pros: Most of these have a Velcro outside closure that makes adjusting and getting the glove on and off quite easy (so look for the ones with the Velcro). The glove opens and closes more easily than with most leather gloves.
- Cons: The foam tends to keep the glove in the open position, unlike a real glove that when broken in will fold naturally. Not a terrible thing, but keeping the hand open does make squeezing throws and fly balls a little more difficult. For those with sensitive fingers, the glove can be irritating. For small hands, the glove can still feel a bit too big and clumsy. Not available in left-handed throw.
- Best For: Older 4-year olds to young 6-year-olds. Very solid t-ball glove.
Easy Catch Glove: This is the quintessential beginner’s glove that you probably remember from when you with a little one. Again you can get this in about any color and go Spongebob to Strawberry Shortcake.
- Pros: Very soft and malleable, this glove goes on very easily and kids can open and close the glove without issue no matter what their hand strength. The glove is small, and I see that as an advantage at this age as while it gives the kids the sensation of having a glove on and reinforces wanting to “scoop” rather than “grab”, to secure the ball in the glove really requires two hands, which is very helpful to reinforce good overall technique.
- Cons: While some may find it a pro, I don’t like the Velcro that is in the glove which allows the ball it comes with to stick in the glove. I’d ditch that ball unless you’re using the glove with a toddler. I’ve been using unpressurized kids tennis balls with my students and they have worked fine without sticking in this glove. And, of course, if you are using a safety baseball or a BlastBall, you’ll have no problem there. Durability is also an issue as this is definitely not made to be a keepsake. There’s every chance you might end up needing to buy more than one over the course of a season. No left-hand throw.
- Best For: 3 to young 5-year-olds. This is, to me, the best glove for the pre-T-ball set. If you are just starting your child out at home, or starting her/him at the BlastBall or Slam Ball level, this to me is the best glove to use.
Here with my penguin tape addition
ItzaMitCatch Glove: Now, here’s one that’s a little outside-the-box. Designed for water play, I’ve had several kids try this glove out and it is definitely something worth considering.
- Pros: It’s reversible! Out of all three of these options, this is the only one that will fit a lefty, the thin foam just pops the other way and it pops right on either hand. This is especially helpful if you’re still not sure whether your child is left-handed or right-handed (which can be different for baseball than it is for other things, as my big guy is a righty all-the-way in baseball, but lefty in all other things). It’s also a good value as you get two gloves per set. Because the fabric is so thin, it is very flexible so easy to open and close.
- Cons: Because it’s reversible, it needs to be able to take the thumb on either side of the glove. That makes it a bit wider than a normal glove and a bit clunkier. Like the foam gloves, they also don’t close on their own. Like the Easy Catch gloves, they do have a large Velcro patch in the webbing. It’s tackier than the Easy Catch and so tennis balls will stick to it. I solved that problem by just layering some colorful duct tape over both sides. It is now my “penguin glove” and the kids often request it because it’s fun. One other thing to consider is that the design of the glove leaves it with very little pocket, so the ball does not sink into the glove as readily as it does the soft foam variety. Also comes with a hard, heavy ball that should be chucked or given to the family dog.
- Best For: Little lefties! Maybe a bit too unwieldy for the youngest players, a solid bet from ages 4 to 6.
Shut up and tell me about real gloves, Coach!:
Okay, okay, I know a number of you really want to get your future gold glover a real glove, or perhaps your guy or gal balk at getting a glove that doesn’t look like the one their big-league icon wears. Here are a few tips that might help you make that first glove turn out just right:
- Size: So the soft foam gloves are 8.5 inches. For your first glove, you don’t want to go too far beyond that. There are a number of 9-inch youth models to choose from that range from $10 to $60. Remember that you want to reinforce a two-hand catch and field early on, so getting a larger glove can actually lead to counter-productive habits.
- Fit: The softer the better. What you want more than anything is a glove that opens and closes easily. Hand strength varies with kids, but it is not often a major asset. While a glove breaks in over time, the more pliable it is when you buy it, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
- Comfort: I’ve had any number of kids complain about how the glove hurts their hand, especially when putting it on and taking it off. We’ve got busy little ones that often get scrapes and sores on their hands, which can make the process that much harder, especially because these youth leather gloves are rarely of high quality, smooth material. There is one pretty easy solution to this problem—buy a batting glove. If they get used to wearing a batting glove on their fielding hand, the fielding glove can slide on-and-off quite comfortably. Lots of pros do it, so you can tell them that they’re doing it just like a big-leaguer.
- Breaking it in: Okay, there are a gazillion ways to break in a glove, so just Google it and you’ll get plenty of ideas. Also note that during the baseball season, a lot of sporting goods stores have their own glove steamers now and for $10 or so will break in your glove on-site to your satisfaction. Note that I did say steamer. Yes, water is actually your friend when it comes to breaking in a glove—don’t be afraid it. I’m a big fan of the microwave technique; putting your glove in with a small bowl of water for a few minutes, removing it while piping hot and soft, and then using a mallet to whack at it all over, banging it closed and then slapping it in the pocket and webbing. Lather-rinse-repeat until the glove is as broken in as you like it. For the really cheap gloves, I would not suggest whacking it with a baseball bat to soften it (something that works well with a well-constructed glove) as the stitching might not hold up to the punishment.
So there you have it. I hope my trials-and-errors will help you find the perfect fit for your young one to help get the grab out of fielding.