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The articles on our site often include information about softball play, so we wanted to take a moment to clear the air about using baseball gloves for softball, whether the fastpitch or slowpitch versions. It’s a very common question.
Yes, players can use baseball gloves for softball ~ as long as the size of the glove does not violate the equipment rules of softball leagues or organizations.
In fact, it’s quite common for fastpitch softball players to use baseball gloves out on the diamond, especially at younger ages of play.
As fastpitch softball players age, the ball gets bigger, and as such demands gloves that are shaped differently. In this realm, youth softball is much different than youth baseball, where the size of the ball never changes.
In fastpitch softball, age 11 is the cutoff for softball players to begin play with the official, regular 12-inch (circumference) softball. Before that, most leagues use balls of 10- or 11-inches around, depending on the age division.
The smaller softballs are usually softer, too, for the safety of young, still-learning players. Even the larger, regulation softballs are softer than baseballs (though some who have been hit by line-drive softballs may disagree!).
Because of this, baseball gloves might feature more padding than their softball counterparts.
Adult slowpitch softball uses the regulation 12-inch softballs. Note: there are 16-inch softballs for a style of play popular in New York and Chicago, which does not allow use of gloves.
Softball gloves are bigger than baseball gloves. A softball infielder might prefer using a small baseball glove, to help speed up ball-to-throwing-hand transfers, but for other positions it would make little sense.
The reason is, softballs are bigger than baseballs. A baseball is 9 to 9½ inches in circumference, while youth softballs are 10- to 11-inches around, and teen and adult softballs are 12 inches around. It’s a significant size difference.
Anyone who has used a baseball glove in an adult slow-pitch softball game understands this well. Softball play just demands a longer glove and bigger pocket to handle the larger ball.
Besides being an inch or more longer, softball gloves often feature special pockets or webs, specifically designed to better trap and hold the bigger softballs. Some of those webs can even be rounded in form, adding even more help to catch softballs.
Why would a high-level adult softball player choose to use a baseball glove? The main reason, as it is with any glove, is comfort. Perhaps a player is just comfortable with the smaller glove on a softball diamond.
Another reason might be outfield gloves, which for both sports are purposely designed longer and larger. There are many adult baseball gloves with large-enough pockets for softball play.
Finally, as stated above, very skilled softball infielders may opt for smaller baseball gloves to reduce the amount of leather that might get in the way of their super-fast transitions of the ball from glove to throwing hand.
When Baseball Gloves Cannot be Used for Softball
A baseball catcher’s mitt can not be used for fastpitch softball play. There’s too much padding, and the pocket is just too small. There would be a lot of bobbles and deflections and the like trying to catch the bigger ball well with the fully padded baseball catcher’s mitt.
A fastpitch softball catcher’s mitt is much like a 1st baseman’s glove in baseball, so in theory that baseball glove could be chosen to play catcher in softball.
At younger ages in fastpitch softball, not all catchers use mitts designed just for the position. It is common to see young softball catchers using fielder’s gloves behind the plate, because either the pitchers are not throwing hard enough, a catcher’s mitt is unaffordable, or the player has a high tolerance for hand pain.
Without a close inspection, it’s not too difficult to tell softball gloves and baseball gloves apart. Softball gloves are just longer from heel to the tip of the index finger, often significantly.
Softball gloves usually measure 13 or 14 inches from heel to index finger tip, while baseball gloves typically range from 10 to 12 inches. Some very large baseball gloves could measure 13 inches or more, which, as stated above, could be acceptable for use in softball.
Many modern gloves are stamped to declare which sport it is designed for. They also might be stamped to indicate it meets the standards for a certain type of play, such as Little League Baseball compared with PONY Baseball.
Another way to tell is by identifying a player whose name might be stamped on the glove. If it’s a Major League Baseball player, the glove is meant for baseball.
If a glove has stamped on it Jennie Finch, Jessica Mendoza, Cat Osterman, Lisa Fernandez, Dot Richardson, or any number of fastpitch softball stars, the glove should be used for softball.
Which type of glove a player uses is totally up to that player’s preference. Which position a player fills the most also plays a part in glove selection.
Outfielders of both sports mostly prefer the longest gloves possible, 13 inches or even longer, to better corral long fly balls while running full speed when the head is bobbing and therefore precision catching is limited as the eyes are moving.
Outfielders do not have to quickly transition the ball from glove to throwing hand for double plays or to nab hitters at 1st base, so they can use bigger gloves.
A player’s size also might drive which glove is used. Softball infielders might choose between select baseball gloves or smaller softball gloves, due to small hands. Small hands, namely shorter fingers, make it harder to control the ball in gloves with really long finger slots.
Finally, there are rules. Most baseball and softball organizations establish size limits for gloves. This is particularly true in baseball, as some leagues forbid use of gigantic softball gloves, due to the potential for unfair advantages (read: catches made at the end of the web that would not have been made normally).
Most leagues are affiliated with national or global organizations, such as Little League Baseball or PONY Baseball, or USA Softball or USSSA for softball. Websites for those organizations are solid places to start to discover rules regarding allowed sizes of gloves and bats.
Experienced Player Perspective: Does It Matter Which Glove?
The answer is, it doesn’t have to matter. If a player is very skilled on defense, in all honesty, the size of the glove is irrelevant. The player will be able to catch either type of ball thrown to him or her.
The difference is twofold and involves the difficulty level, and enhanced performance. That is, no matter the skill of the player, whether or not a small glove can be used in softball depends upon how easy (or difficult) it would be to catch the ball; and the potential to boost performance.
The former is pretty self-explanatory. Sure, a softball player if quite skilled could use a baseball glove, and make catches routinely. But it may require a significant amount of additional focus and attention to do so. Basically it commands very good hand-eye coordination, and use of the throwing hand in catches to secure the ball on contact.
Players must be very skilled to trust they can guide the hand to meet moving balls in exactly the right places. Just a tiny bit off, and the ball could pop out or deflect from the glove.
For the latter, the potential to boost performance, understand that the longer the glove, the more balls will be touched. If it was possible for a player to have his or her body move exactly the same on consecutive plays, but wear different gloves for each action, the play with the larger mitt would touch the ball more often.
It’s a reason why super-sized gloves are not allowed in baseball: it can be considered a form of cheating. It’s like allowing fishing nets to be used out on the field; it’s nowhere close to natural.
Gloves were introduced to baseball (and, later, softball) as a way to protect the player’s hand, and later features like rawhide laces and a web were added to make it easier to catch balls with a single hand.
The intent was never to expand the range of the player, that is, to help that player catch balls he or she otherwise would miss. Because of the extra inch or two (or more) of length in the glove.
While very, very similar, softball and baseball have significant differences in the sizes of things, from the size of the ball to the distance between bases, reach of the outfield fences (if any), and length of gloves used.
Much depends on the size and structure of the ball. Baseball bats are made with larger barrels, to improve the ability to hit the small ball approaching at a high velocity.
Softball bats are designed differently because the larger ball is easier to hit. Softball bats are made with a thinner barrel designed more for speed than power. (Note: most definitely you cannot use a baseball bat for softball play.)
We say all this to get to the gloves used in the field. Because softballs are bigger than baseballs, the gloves used in softball play are usually bigger to accommodate the extra inches in size of the ball.
This does not have to mean that softball players must use softball-only gloves. Softball players can use baseball gloves, if they are skilled enough to do so, and as long as the glove to be used does not break any league or softball organization’s equipment regulations.