Catching demands a lot. You have to present a proper target for the pitcher, revolve between multiple stance techniques, block pitches in the dirt, and keep track of base-stealers for a quick throw to second, all while performing the most demanding of tasks: calling pitches.
From your vantage point, you face opposite your teammates; you see the whole game in action, the entire machine pumping in harmony. You see the precise arc of your pitcher’s throw. You watch the eyes of the baserunner. And the batter — your opponent — you hear his ragged breath as he steps into the batter’s box and readies for his swing.
That wide lens allows you the ability to analyze and understand the game from a perspective others will envy. And all of that, the whole job and all of its demands, centers on a proper mitt.
In order to find this crucial piece of catcher’s equipment, you first have to know what to look for.
NOT A GLOVE
Although the terms “glove” and “mitt” are often used interchangeably on the diamond, the difference is distinct and important when it comes to catchers.
A glove — like a winter glove — has separate finger pockets, allowing for greater flexibility, versatility and speed. But a catcher’s mitt (similar to a first baseman’s mitt), is designed to keep your fingers closer together and trade unnecessary versatility for added security. And by security, we mean both of the safety variety and the ensure-you-catch-that-ball variety.
As a catcher, it’s imperative that you equip yourself with a mitt that’s suitable to your style.
Catcher’s gloves typically have closed webbing. This type of webbing provides added support when you catch quick-moving baseballs and helps hide your pitch calls. But if you’re using an especially large mitt, it will hamper your ability to see the ball coming at you, so you may want to opt for an open webbing for added visibility.
There are two options to choose from when it comes to the back side of your mitt. Most catchers opt for a “closed” back. This style offers ample support and wrist protection. You can also choose a mitt with an “open” back, which has the same wide opening between the wrist strap and the upper part of the glove that outfielder’s gloves have. This style allows for greater mobility. You’ll need to decide what to you prioritize most.
Some models offer an external finger slot on the back of the mitt, providing more precise control, or adjustable wrist guards for better feeling of support.
Padding gives and takes. More padding means more protection but also a smaller pocket. If you like the extra shock protection, going up an inch in size will ensure you retain the full pocket you’ll need.
When it comes to leather, there are four types available, offering a variety of costs and levels of durability to choose from.
Softer, less expensive leathers benefit younger players, who may grow out of their mitt or who haven’t committed to multiple seasons of play. For those players, look at synthetic or pigskin leathers, which will wear out quickly but are a lesser investment.
Professional catchers usually use tougher forms of leather because they are more durable and because players love the crisp popping sound of the ball hitting the pocket. More advanced or committed players should look for steerhide or full-grain leather gloves.
To find your perfect fit, the first thing to keep in mind is that catcher’s mitts are measured not by their length (like other gloves) but by their circumference, resulting in bigger numbers.
Typically, anyone ages 12 and under will require a mitt of 32″ or less, while a player who is 13 or older will usually go for a mitt of 32.5″ or more.
You can go bigger or smaller. Remember that going larger will increase the size of your pocket (meaning you can catch and keep balls with less accuracy) and going smaller will improve your agility and visibility. Some models include options like adjustable wrist straps and laces for an improved fit.
Now that you’ve found the catcher’s mitt that’s right for you, it’s vital to shape the palm and webbing into a proper pocket before use.
The biggest determiner of break-in time is — you guessed it — leather choice. Softer leathers wear out more easily, but they also break-in sooner. Pigskin leather can typically be broken in within a few hours of play, which makes them a great option for new players.
Meanwhile, the tougher leathers like steerhide may take two or three months of light use during practice before they’re fully broken in. A professional player will buy a new steerhide glove in advance of their primary mitt wearing out and use it on a part-time basis to get it ready for regular play. Keep in mind that a high percentage of models come pre-broken in from the factory which would cut down break-in time significantly.
So, if you have a game in the next few days, consider opting for pigskin.
But if you’ve got more time, or if you’re playing in an advanced league or have committed to multiple seasons of play, a stronger leather will be worth the investment.
The bottom line is, while you’re crouching there, enjoying that ubiquitous view, make sure you can trust your mitt — choose the best one for your needs, knowing that as a catcher, the game will eventually come to you.