Cover Your Bases: A Guide to Baseball Gear

As the snow melts and the trees begin to bud signaling the end of a long winter and start of a new spring, it’s time to break out the ball bag and make sure the baseball player in your family has everything they need for the upcoming season. Pants can get worn out, gloves can somehow shrink (even if you just bought one last year!) and even bats can be outgrown in just a season. But fear not, as all of the bases can easily be covered in one trip.

From the Ground Up

First and foremost, make sure last year’s spikes fit. Depending on your child’s age, it’s entirely likely they’re too small and a new pair will be needed. Or, if the cleats are molded, they may have worn down. When shopping for cleats, make sure you check the league rules to see if the cleats can be metal or have to be molded or plastic. From there, ensure that you have the correct team-colored socks, pants and belt (if needed). Check with the league or coach if you’re unsure of this step.

Like a Glove!

Once the uniform is taken care of, it’d be wise to take an equipment inventory to make sure everything both is still the proper size or weight for your player and they fall within the league rules. For gloves, make sure your player’s hand still fits in the glove comfortably. For more competitive leagues or the more seasoned player, make sure the glove size its best suited for the position. For example, if you have a blossoming first baseman, make sure they have a first baseman’s glove if needed. Or, a smaller glove for an infielder and larger for outfielder.

Tools of the Trade

In order to make sure your player’s bat is good to go, see if the bat’s drop weight – which is the bat’s length minus it’s weight – is appropriate. You’ll find in youth bats, that value typically ranges between -8 and -13 ounces. Stronger, more developed players will be able to swing more weight easily while smaller players might need something lighter to ensure proper bat speed.

As far as length, there are a couple ways to ensure it’s the right size. One is to have the player set the bat barrel-side down and let their arm hang palm out. If the bottom knob of the bat sits in their palm, the length is good. Another way is to have the player stick their arm out to the side. Line up the end of the bat in the center of the chest. If the player is able to easily touch the other end, the length is still OK.

Taking an early inventory of baseball gear can help make sure your player has everything they need for the upcoming season. With so many items to consider, don’t hesitate in dusting off the ol’ bat bag while there’s snow on the ground while you prepare for pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training!

-Home Run Hitter

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Play Ball

Prepare your youngster to get in the game with the right training and equipment.
 
Almost every kid wants to answer the call to play ball, and moms and dads can do much to help them develop the skills that make baseball an enjoyable and healthy activity. From providing the right equipment to providing a bit of training in the backyard, that first encounter with the game will go a long way toward determining whether baseball proves fun or frustrating.
 
Training aids can give youngsters a great start on the way to skill development. Dunham’s stocks a wide range of SKLZ training tools that can make practice more productive and more fun. For example, the Hit-A-Way swing trainer attaches to any pole or tree and simulates real pitches. Your young slugger can get up to 500 swings per hour without ever having to chase a ball. The 5-Position Brush Tee is another great training aid. Rather than just a simple tee, it allows the ball to be positioned high, low, inside, outside or down the middle, and the brush top promotes a realistic ball flight when your little slugger makes contact. SKLZ Softhands is a practice mitt without a pocket that teaches young infielders to get in front of the ball and use two hands. It also reinforces correct transfer of the ball to the throwing hand.
 
A variety of other training aids are available as well. Ask your Dunham’s sales consultant to help you find the equipment that’s right for you and your aspiring ballplayer.
 
Of course, on-field equipment is important as well, and having a properly fitting glove and a correctly sized bat can help your ballplayer achieve the kind of success that breeds confidence. Dunham’s carries baseball gloves for players at all levels. Among those recommended for the littlest guys and gals are the Rawlings 10″ or 10.5″ Tee Ball Gloves. These are durable gloves that can help a player get off to a good start. As skills mature, your youngster can move up to the lightweight Wilson A 500 glove or the affordable Wilson A 450. Both are available in 10-inch size and larger. Also, check out Dunham’s assortment of youth baseball and fast pitch softball gloves for girls.
 
At the plate, little sluggers need a bat designed for beginners. Dunham’s stocks a number of choices from the top suppliers, including Easton and DeMarini. Ryan J. Weller, Easton’s strategic account manager, says, “We offer two bats for Tee Ball: the XL and the Mako. The XL has a -10 length to weight ratio, while the Mako is -13. Because the Mako is lighter it can be swung faster, which often improves control. Both bats are one-piece aluminum.” For the bigger and stronger Youth Player, Dunham’s also carries a wide assortment of Youth Baseball Bats from Easton, DeMarini and Rawlings.
 
As young ballplayers graduate to little league and higher, Dunham’s can supply equipment that will keep pace, and our knowledgeable sales consultants can make sure that it’s a perfect fit.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 
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The New Old-Fashioned Way

Pete Browning got the first finely crafted Hillerich & Bradsby hardwood bat in 1884, and ever since, many super stars of major league baseball have made that manufacturer’s Louisville Slugger their weapon of choice.
 
H & B Louisville Sluggers are still carefully made from fine hardwood, but the process has evolved over the years. It frequently begins in H & B’s own timberland in Pennsylvania and New York. There, northern white ash and maple trees that have reached the age of 60 or more are harvested. The finest logs are then selected at the mill. After hand sawing into square billets, the wood is vacuum dried.
 
A proprietary machine, built for the sole purpose of making Louisville Sluggers, compresses the grain of the barrel to achieve optimum hardness. Next, filler is applied to close the grain. The filler is topped with several layers of a topcoat seal. The resulting finish is said to be the hardest of any wood bat on the market.
 
Over the years a variety of hardwoods have been used to make Louisville Sluggers. At one time, hickory was very popular, but it’s too heavy for today’s players who emphasize bat speed. Ash was the most popular wood through most of the modern era, but in recent years, maple has achieved equal status, as many players experienced success with maple bats in the 1990s.
 
Babe Ruth swung a mammoth hunk of H & B timber. It was 36 inches long and weighed a whopping 42 ounces. Mickey Mantle’s Louisville Slugger was considerably lighter at 32 ounces. While Major League Baseball rules allow bats up to 42 inches in length, no one has ever used an H & B bat of that size. The longest was a 38-inch stick used by Al Simmons in the 1940s.
 
“Wee” Willie Keeler, a right fielder of the 1890s, stepped to the plate with a Louisville Slugger that measured 30½ inches. That’s the length prescribed today for a 120-pound little leaguer who stands just over 4-feet tall. Willy, who had a .341 career batting average, wasn’t a lot bigger at 5 foot, 4 inches and 140 pounds. He is said to have been the first to say, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
 
Both that strategy and the Louisville slugger Wee Willie swung remain key parts of the game.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 
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The Right Tools

 
Gloves and bats that don’t fit the player’s game are an obstacle to skill development
 
Baseball was king on the southside of Chicago in the 1950s. I grew up a few miles from Comiskey Park, and as a six-year-old I was dying to get in the game.
 
My dad was born and raised in Sweden, so baseball was foreign to him, but he knew I pined to play ball, so he bought me a glove. It was an Andy Pafko model, and it was flat as a pancake with no discernable pocket. To catch the ball I would try to sandwich it between glove and free hand. I played with that glove for a couple of years, developed all kinds of bad habits and dropped many balls. In later years I bought a good glove, but that early experience had left its mark, and I lacked confidence in the field.
 
Starting with the Right Equipment
 
There are many factors that affect the development of young players, but few are as important as having the right equipment. Baseball skills are complex, and learning is difficult. But handicapping a player with a bat that’s too heavy or a glove that doesn’t fit will lead to failure and frustration.
 
Fits Like a Glove
 
Wilson has developed a chart that prescribes baseball glove size and type for players of every age and position (see facing page). Consult it before choosing a glove or ask your Dunham’s sales representative to help you choose. By the way, the gloves Wilson designs for pros are identical to those Dunham’s sells. Everyone gets the best equipment.
 
Asked how a glove should be selected, Ali Brewer, of Wilson baseball said, “The first question we ask is what position you play.” A 12-year old middle infielder generally needs a glove that’s 11 to 11¾ inches in length with a shallow pocket. With a shallow pocket, a shortstop or second baseman can get the ball out quickly and make their throw. Younger players require smaller gloves. A six-year-old infielder should have a glove that’s 10 to 10½ inches long. In every case, the glove should be easy for the player to maneuver and must fit the hand. Apply common sense here.
 
In a video on Wilson’s web site, San Francisco Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez says, “You want a pocket but not too deep a pocket. At second base, I have to be quick getting the ball out.“
 
Outfielders require a longer glove: 11¾ to 12½ inches for older youths, and 10¾ to 11½ inches for eight- to ten-year-old players. Josh Hamilton, the Angels all-star outfielder, says, “As an outfielder you want as big a glove as you can possibly have.”
 
Extra length can give an outfielder the reach needed to grab over-the-wall flies and bad-bounce line drives. The double welting of Wilson gloves prevents the fingers from bending back when the ball slams home and makes cone catches possible.
 
The requirements for other positions vary, but your Dunham’s sales representative can help you choose the best glove for any player and position.
 
Swing the Right Stick
 
Swinging a baseball bat that’s the right size and weight is critical to success at the plate. Hitting a baseball isn’t easy, and the best players track the pitch until it’s close to the plate, and then swing rapidly and accurately. A player bogged down with too heavy a bat can’t generate the speed necessary to hit a fastball. And a player swinging too light a bat will not hit with power.
 
An efficient swing is extremely important now that bats must meet standards for the amount of energy transferred to the ball. Today’s aluminum and composite bats don’t generate the trampoline effect of yesteryear. A properly sized bat and correct swing are critical.
 
Dunham’s carries a wide range of bats, including DeMarini, Easton, and Hillerich & Bradsby models. Among the H & B offerings is the classic wood Louisville Slugger. All are great products, and your Dunham’s sales representative can help you choose one that’s best for you or your youngster.
 
A Range of Choices
 
All bats must meet strict performance guidelines. For little league, non-wood bats have to meet a bat performance factor of 1.15 or less. For intermediate leagues, NCAA and senior league play, non-wood bats must conform to BBCOR standards. In addition, there are barrel diameter and length restrictions for each category. Your Dunham’s sales representative can help you choose a bat that will meet all requirements.
 
The performance standards were instituted to make the game safer, but they also ensure that aluminum and composite bats perform more like wood bats. So while non-wood bats once outperformed classic bats by a wide margin, that’s no longer the case.
 
But technology still plays a role in bat construction, and if player preference is a guideline, certain bats rise to the top of the charts. Among top choices in the NCAA college baseball ranks are the DeMarini Vexxum, which combines a composite handle with an alloy metal barrel; the Louisville Slugger TPX Attack, featuring composite construction; and the alloy-metal Easton XL3.
 
All are premium choices, but every manufacturer also produces more affordable bats suitable for even the youngest T-ball slugger. All are available at Dunham’s.
 
Size Matters
 
In addition to the product dimension and performance requirements specified by various baseball organizations, there are common-sense guidelines that suggest how much bat a player can handle. Bat manufacturers have developed a chart that makes recommendations for length based on size and weight (see chart on page 21). For example, a 95-pound little leaguer standing 4½-feet tall would probably do well with a 30-inch bat. But handle diameter, barrel shape and weight are important too, and taking a few practice swings with a bat is a good way to determine its suitability. If your ballplayer struggles to get the bat around, it’s too heavy.
 
In brief, it’s all about matching the equipment to the player. The best bat or glove doesn’t get in the way but rather complements the player’s style, strength and ability level. While only raw talent can make an all-star, having the right equipment can help every player perform at his or her maximum.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 

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Little League, Batter Up!

Choosing the right baseball bat for your little leaguer can be a challenging but also a highly rewarding experience. A tremendous amount of science and engineering goes into the design of today’s bats. Many feature exotic combinations of aluminum, zinc, copper, magnesium and titanium. Others use synthetic composites and space-age bonding materials. New technology also helps reduce weight, enlarge the hitting area and improve overall energy transfer.
 
For most little league players, however, it still comes down to length and weight. Here are some general guidelines to use in selecting the appropriate length of a bat by age or weight and height.
 
Determining Bat Length by Age

AgeBat Length
5 – 724” – 26”
8 – 926” – 28”
1028” – 29”
11 – 1230” – 31”


 
Bats are also available in a number of different weights, measured in ounces. A concept called bat drop can also help young players increase both swing speed and bat control. The bat drop is the weight of the bat in ounces minus its length in inches. For example, a 21-ounce, 31-inch bat has a bat drop of minus 10 (21 –31 = -10).
 
One way to determine if the weight of a bat is right for your little leaguer is to have them grip the bat with one hand and hold it straight out from their body. They should easily be able to hold it in that position for up to five seconds. If not, try a bat of the same length but with a greater minus bat drop.
 
Before selecting any bat make sure it fits and feels right in your little leaguer’s hands. Also make sure it conforms to all league guidelines for length and weight. Choosing the right bat will help your child develop good batting habits that will stay with them for a lifetime.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 
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It Must Be The Shoes

Beginning baseball player or all-star, without the traction advantage of cleats, it’s no go.
 
The runner on first base steps toward second, then stops and studies the pitcher, looking for a clue that might reveal whether his next move will be a throw to first or a pitch to the plate. The pitcher goes into his stretch, looks over his shoulder and returns the stare, gauging the base runner’s lead and calculating whether he’s likely to break for second on the pitch. The runner takes one step back toward first. Confident that he has the runner leaning toward first, the pitcher delivers to the plate. But by the time he releases the ball, the runner has shifted his weight, and he digs in with his cleat, pushing off toward second with all the power his leg can generate.
 
Without baseball cleats, that runner would be spinning his wheels, slipping and sliding in the dirt, but the grip of the shoe allows him to apply as much force as he can muster. While cleats are essential equipment for the base runner, they’re also necessary for defensive players, who must react quickly to a batted ball and move into position. Similarly, that pitcher has to have firm footing on the pitching rubber and mound in order to deliver the ball with maximum velocity and accuracy.
 
A Historical Footnote
 
Baseball cleats are an important part of a player’s equipment, and they have been since a ballplayer named Paul Butler first attached spikes to his leather shoes more than 150 years ago. Today, players can choose from a wide range of baseball cleats, including types designed for different conditions and playing surfaces. And while cleats may resemble street shoes, there’s a lot of science involved in their construction. Wedges are frequently used within the shoe to provide cushioning in some areas without adding excessive weight. The wedges can also serve to keep the front of the foot low to the ground, an advantage when running. Soft pads are located within the shoe to minimize pressure, and cushioning is used in midsole areas to reduce the discomfort that results from hours of standing and running. Tongue flaps keep the tongue in place while keeping dirt out, and zippered shrouds lock laces in place.
 
The cleats on the underside of the shoe are usually made of metal, solid rubber or molded thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Metal cleats are durable and can dig into hard dirt. Non-metal cleats reduce the risk of injury to opposing players and can make for a more comfortable shoe. But since rubber and TPU cleats don’t provide as much grip, more metal cleats are used. Maximum height for all types is ½-inch. Generally, players who have reached high-school level or above use metal cleats when conditions warrant, while more junior ballplayers use a non-metal type. Some shoes are made with removable cleats, so both metal and non-metal cleats can be used interchangeably and worn cleats can be replaced.
 
The position of  the cleats can affect the way the shoes — and the athlete — perform. Nike, for example, has moved the toe cleat under the big toe to improve traction, while the secondary cleats in the forefoot area are engineered to improve lateral movement.
 
Sizing Up the Shoe
 
It’s not all about traction and cleat design, the support the shoe provides and its durability are also important. Baseball cleats are available in both low-top and ¾-height shoe configurations. The low-tops offers great flexibility and are favored by speedy baserunners, while he ¾-height shoes provide more ankle support and are less likely to fall off. In terms of materials, synthetic outers can reduce weight, while leather is tough and durable. Many shoes are made from a combination of materials. Under Armour, a major supplier of baseball cleats, uses a combination of leather and a synthetic material called nubuck in many of their shoes. Nike baseball cleats use a rubber compound called Diamond Guard in the toe area to enhance durability.
 
Special Applications
 
Most manufacturers offer shoes designed specifically for softball and for children. Because softball involves motions that differ from those of baseball, particularly for pitchers, shoes are engineered specifically for that game. Kids, on the other hand, grow fast, and some baseball cleats are designed to accommodate growth with removable spacers in the heel area.
 
Dunham’s carries a wide range of baseball cleats for boys, girls and adults. Among the most popular are the Nike Keystone and Under Armour’s Leadoff IV. A Dunham’s sales consultant can help you choose the cleats that are best for you or your aspiring athlete.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 
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Spring Training!

Dunham’s baseball training aids can aid in the development of baseball skills — in both the backyard and the team’s training facility.
 
Baseball is America’s game, and learning to play it well can be very beneficial for young men and women. Baseball provides exercise opportunities while improving muscle coordination and mental concentration, but it’s not an easy game to master, so a bit of extra help can go a long way in terms of building skills.
 
Dunham’s stocks a wide range of baseball training aids, ranging from inexpensive exercise devices to pro-caliber pitching machines. Dunham’s can supply training products suitable for college or semi-pro training camps as well as basic equipment meant for use in the backyard. Product choices include training aids designed specifically for both hardball and softball.
 
Among the Pik training aids that Dunham’s stocks is the Arm Strong muscle developer, which is designed to improve throwing arm strength. Another Pik offering is the Power Trigger, a device that can help hitters develop a strong and balanced swing (shown at left). Pik’s patented EZ Tee batting tee (shown above) is the company’s top-selling product. Designed for simple adjustment the EZ Tee has a rubber topper that won’t damage a bat. Pik’s Swift Stik is a lightweight training bat that gives aspiring hitters lots of extra swings without the muscle fatigue that a game-weighted bat can cause.
 
Of course, Dunham’s carries a wide selection of products from other manufacturers as well. With everything from pitcher’s targets to portable backstops, and ball-return nets, Dunham’s has the training aids that can help any young man or woman fully develop their natural baseball skills.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 
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Right Glove Means Comfort, Control and Confidence

Imagine hitting a sharp liner up the gap, but barely making it to first base because your baseball pants are so large they practically fall off. Or imagine rounding third, heading for home and literally flying out of your cleats because they’re two or three sizes too large.

While those scenarios may seem unlikely, chances are your son or daughter may be playing with another piece of extremely important equipment not properly fitted to his or her age, size or level of play.

“One mistake many parents make,” says Dave White, National Account Manager for Wilson Sporting Goods, “is choosing a baseball glove that is too large for their son or daughter, with the thought that they’ll eventually grow into it. What happens then is that the player often gets discouraged because the glove falls off their hand, or because they have a hard time fielding, catching or controlling the ball.”

From Little League all the way through the big league, choosing the right glove is all about fit, feel and functionality. Here are a few guidelines to use when choosing a glove for your little leaguer:

  • Baseball gloves are measured from the top of the index finger, over the surface of the pocket and down to the heel of the glove.
  • Players under the age of 8 should use a 9-inch glove for infield play and up to an 11-inch glove for outfield play.
  • Players from 8 to early teens should use a 9- to 10-inch glove for infield play, a 10- to 11-inch glove if playing multiple positions and up to a 12-inch glove for outfield play.
  • A shallow pocket helps infielders trap and grab the ball more easily.
  • A deeper pocket helps outfielders catch and hold the ball more securely.
  • Leather gloves offer superior comfort, control and durability over gloves made of synthetic materials.

Avoid the mistake of thinking bigger is better and your little leaguer will definitely benefit from the added comfort, control and confidence they get from a smaller, properly fitted glove.

Any other suggestions you have regarding selecting a baseball glove?

-Home Run Hitter

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Swing Batta Batta…

Power hitters, contact hitters and everyone in between—today’s bat technology is designed to improve the performance of anyone who steps to the plate.

A lot has changed since the first aluminum bats were introduced more than 30 years ago. Bat manufacturers are constantly introducing new performance enhancement technology to give you an edge in the batter’s box.

Today’s bats feature exotic combinations of aluminum alloy, zinc, copper, magnesium, graphite and titanium. Wilson and Louisville feature perfect examples of this revolutionary technology.

The Wilson “half and half” technology combines a “Flex-Tuned Evolution Composite” handle with an alloy barrel for optimal balance and a generous sweet spot. Louisville uses a different approach with X-1 Composite Technology that layers aerospace grade graphite embedded in epoxy resin.

While the technology is complex, the objective is simple: optimize light weight for durability.

Lighter materials mean hitters can generate more bat speed. Greater bat speed results in harder hit balls that get through the gaps and over the fence.

In making bats lighter and more durable, manufacturers have also enlarged the sweet spot. Hitting behind the runner, going to the opposite field or laying down the perfect bunt becomes a lot easier with a sweet spot that allows for a greater margin of error.

Like most performance-enhancement technology, the right fit is a key to success. Selecting a bat with the correct design, length and weight is critical. This is especially true for younger players who are still growing and developing their skills. The wrong bat could lead to bad habits that develop to compensate for ill-suited equipment.

The barrel and handle of bats are designed for specific purposes. A larger barrel provides a bigger sweet spot but hitters can generate more bat speed with a smaller barrel. A larger handle can take the sting out of hitting the ball but it also increases weight.

The length and weight of a bat are also critical to success. Here’s chart that can help you select the right size bat:

Length and Weight: The weight drop is a figure that refers to the difference between the length of the bat (in inches) and the weight of the bat (in ounces). Weight drop is always shown as a minus number. Lighter bats have a higher weight drop which means a -10 would be lighter than a -8.

Determine Your Bat Length by Weight and Height
Your height (inches)
Your weight (pounds)36-4041-4445-4849-5253-5657-6061-6465-6869-7273+
Bat length
less than 6026″27″28″29″29″
61-7027″27″28″29″30″30″
71-8028″28″29″30″30″31″
81-9028″29″29″30″30″31″32″
91-10028″29″30″30″31″31″32″
101-11029″29″30″30″31″31″32″
111-12029″29″30″30″31″31″32″
121-13029″29″30″30″31″32″33″33″
131-14029″30″30″31″31″32″33″33″
141-15030″30″31″31″32″33″33″
151-16030″31″31″32″32″33″33″33″
161-17031″31″32″32″33″33″34″
171-18032″33″33″34″34″
180+33″33″34″34″

-Home Run Hitter

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Fast-Pitch The New Field of Dreams

Less than 15 years ago there was talk that fast-pitch softball was on its last legs. Today it is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Driving the resurgence are women who have embraced fast-pitch and made it a game of their own.

The seed was planted back in 1972 with the passage of Title IX. The legislation set the foundation for growth in women athletic teams and athletic scholarships for woman at the collegiate level. Even with Title IX, women’s fast-pitch softball lingered in the background.

The sport really grabbed everyone’s attention with the success of the U.S. Women’s team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. At the time, fewer than 250,000 women were playing fast-pitch across the nation. Today the American Softball Association (ASA) projects there are more than 1.8 million women in the U.S. playing on nearly 650,000 teams.

Back in 1996, just a few universities had fast-pitch teams. Now there are more than 932 collegiate programs involving more than 16,000 student athletes.

While these numbers are impressive, they could be just the tip of the iceberg.

ASA registrations indicate fast-pitch is still gaining in popularity with women. There are more than 1.2 million girls participating on 83,000 youth girl softball teams in the U.S.

Don’t confuse these women with the recreational player who plays a few games when the weather is nice. Most women participating in fast-pitch play more than 52 games a year.

Proof of the game’s popularity can also be found on the internet. A quick search of fast-pitch softball turns up hundreds of links. The sport’s popularity has fueled a new industry of training videos, books, camps, tournaments and specialized equipment. There are even endorsement opportunities for star athletes.

-Home Run Hitter

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