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With youth baseball gear, dads usually want their little slugger to look like the players they see on television; while moms mostly hope the gear will make the young ballplayer stand out from the crowd. Parents, listen up: For baseball equipment starts with comfort, especially for the cleats.
While the brand and model contributes, the success of baseball cleats with youngsters is probably most dependent on size-fitting, and break-in. For the latter, we want to offer some top tips on how to break in baseball cleats right out of the box.
Besides some tee ball leagues, cleats are needed for baseball play, mainly to prevent slipping during a great variety of actions involved with the game. Youth baseball is played on not-firm surfaces like loose dirt or thick grass.
A player’s feet could slip while running full speed on the outfield grass, or on the base paths, for instance. Pitchers rely on very secure footing to both push off for pitches, and land at the end of their stride. Batters want their rear foot dug at least decently into the batter’s box, to push and stride during a swing.
That is, not only at practice and games, but workouts or running purposely arranged just to get a feel for the shoes, and wear them in, to flex easier, and better mold around the athlete’s unique feet.
Not every human foot is the same, and not all feet of baseball players react the same to play. Pitchers push laterally off one foot to start, then land hard to a sudden stop on the other foot. Batters can put a lot of stress on the back foot, twisting violently during the swing. Running puts pressure all over the place, and a potential pain spot in the ball of the foot.
It’s difficult to explain, but careful and precise footwork is very important in baseball. There are the acts mentioned above, but also a whole bunch of other acts that depend on nimble feet and a lot of balance:
- Infield throwing involves a lot of shuffling of feet and twisting of the body. Middle infielders have to be acrobatic if they are the middle man on a double play.
- Base running causes a lot of stress on feet (and ankles, calves and knees) due to sudden starts and stops.
- Outfield running is flat-out sprints on grass, sometimes not cut very short making it feel like running through sand.
Whatever position (or positions) a young baseball player will play, try to wear the new cleats doing those actions. That is, away from practice or games, go to a park, and pretend to turn a double play, or start a sprint and suddenly stop, to emulate game action. Pitchers can toss imaginary throws over and over while wearing the new cleats.
Your feet and how the toes pressure them to make certain acts will help not only make the cleats more pliable, but also to let the leather, sole, and other parts of the cleat mold around the player’s specific pressure points.
It doesn’t hurt with new cleats to just go to a grassy park and run around as much as you can to break in those cleats. It’s better to do this away from live (real) games, where problems with new cleats can negatively impact performance ~ or even cause blisters on toes or heels, or other injuries.
Players can wear them walking around the back yard, and work their way to minor exercises like squats or jumping to emulate game play but not go 100% until the cleats are worn in. Players can get the shoes to move more easily, without the intensity of practice or game play.
Doing these repetitions off the ballfield also allows young athletes to play around with how tight or loose to keep the shoe laces. Believe it or not, strapping the shoes on is very important for comfort, and new players can experiment with how much pressure they are comfortable with.
Not every young player can wear new cleats in the house or around the back yard (maybe there’s a spell of poor weather). Luckily there are still things to do to otherwise break ‘em in:
- Flexing. Grab a shoe on the underside, one hand holding the toe, the other holding the heel, and bend the shoe in the middle as if those two ends are to touch. However there is no need to bend them quite that far; repetition is more important. Do this flexing with both shoes as much as possible ~ even while watching TV!
- Twisting. Using the same grip as above, twist each shoe in either direction, repeatedly. Players don’t just run in a straight line (which the flexing above is good for); the twisting emulates running in a curve, or shifting direction while running like when a ball is deflected suddenly.
- Pounding. Hard leather can be “worked,” by holding them upside down by the toe, and banging them on a hard object like wood. Or, a cleat could be set on a hard surface (concrete preferably), and a bat used to tap, tap, tap the shoe to loosen the leather and stitches. No need to pound as hard as you can. Again, repetition is what matters.
Some people say submerging new cleats entirely under water, or using shaving cream on the outsides, helps break in cleats. We are not convinced this is good for the long-term health of the cleats. However, it is an option, and is used by many players.
Leather dries out even in regular play, due to perspiration. Adding full moisture unnaturally, or (worse) adding chemicals to the exterior, can only damage the leather.
To do the water immersion properly, fill a large bucket or pail with water, submerge the cleats for 5 or 10 minutes each, then while wearing socks put the cleats on and walk around for a spell. It’s important to wear socks doing this to emulate the true size of what will be inside during play.
Once done, take the shoe laces off and place them and the cleats in an airy location for at least a whole day to dry out.
Aside from water, there are leather conditioners that might be applied, before all the flexing and pounding. Just be careful not to use a brand that might stain, or otherwise harm to exterior material.
Just as some players do with new gloves, some people try to set the bend in the arch of cleats by tying them up, into a V shape, and leaving them like that overnight. Basically pull the toes upward toward the laces and rear heel area, with a string or rope, and just leave it.
This is something, just like flexing, that helps loosen up that hard sole we discussed earlier. The hardness of the sole depends on the brand, model, and sometimes which position the model was designed for. That’s right: some baseball cleats might be designed more for outfield play (usually lighter to help boost speed); or made for catchers (quality or thick leather to not fail at pressure points like at the ball of the foot or arch).
Anyone brand new to buying baseball cleats will realize there is more to it than buying tennis shoes. Here are some details to look for.
First, baseball cleats come in 3 varieties, separated by what’s on the very bottom that touches the field of play:
- Rubber/plastic cleats. These are hard protrusions from the bottom of the sole, designed to grip turf and dirt. They are hard, but not super-hard like metal cleats. Most young players start with rubber or plastic cleats.
- Metal spikes. These are arranged a little like their softer counterparts, but these metal versions are thinner, and do not wear down as fast as the rubber or plastic versions. Older baseball players prefer these because they really penetrate grass and dirt to the pushing off and sudden stops needed in baseball play.
- Turf shoes. These are sports cleats designed specifically for play on artificial turf. You see these mostly at the professional levels, and maybe some school leagues, but in reality the number of turf fields is slowly diminishing. These shoes are kind of a hybrid between tennis shoes and cleats with rubber or plastic spikes. The bottom of turf shoes do not have to penetrate the ground deeply to grip.
Baseball cleats can be made entirely of leather, of synthetic leather, or a mix of one and all. Combination cover materials could include a light and penetrable mesh also, just like with running shoes.
Leather is more durable and longer-lasting, and also usually more expensive and harder to break in. Synthetic materials sometimes need little breaking in at all; and they tend to be lighter in weight. Cleats with some mesh can be cooler than all-leather as the surface allows heat to escape outward. However, the mesh is prone to wearing out or tearing.
Some cleat model names might include terms like “Mid,” “Mid-range,” or “Full.” This refers to how high the cleats go up the ankle. Some baseball cleats are high-tops just like you see in basketball, designed to better support the ankle and heel area. These are called high-tops, or “full.”
Mid or mid-range cleats are a hybrid of high-tops with regular (low-top) cleats. Sometimes the difference is barely noticeable, mostly in the very rear where the shoes rise a bit higher up the Achilles tendon.
If none of those terms are used, then the model is a regular cleat, which is like everyday shoes we wear.
Other details you might see in marketing materials for baseball cleats might include:
- Air. As with Air Jordans in basketball, these models have air inserted into the soul for cushioning and comfort. These models tend to cost more.
- Special arch support. Some models might go out of their way to provide super arch support, like New Balance running shoes do.
- Super light. Some brands tout the light weight of cleats, to boost speed and hopefully bolster comfort.
- Water/weather proof. Some cleats might be made of materials intended to ward off moisture. These might be considered for regions with a lot of fog or light rains.
Baseball cleats are not like newfangled tennis or running shoes, made of ultra light and super strong new fabric, that makes them feel like wearing super soft socks right after tying them on.
Baseball cleats take a beating, and have to be designed to transfer torque from those cleats and spikes that grip the ground, up through the foot and ankle into the legs for power.
As such, a few things make it necessary to properly break in baseball cleats:
- Hard sole. As opposed to the very light and flexible soles on tennis shoes, baseball cleats have a thicker and harder underside to accommodate the cleats. Rubber and plastic cleats are molded right into the sole; metal cleats are screwed or riveted onto the hard sole. That long hard strip of plastic right under the feet is usually stiff and needs repeated bending to make it more flexible.
- Leather exterior. Quality baseball cleats are made of all leather, which is durable and easier to repel moisture (that often comes off grass). While leather is great for durability and cleanability, new leather is very hard and must be worked hard much like a new baseball glove, and maybe even lubricated.
- Tight or double stitching. Baseball cleats take a beating during repeated play, so quality models will have extra or stronger stitching, making them a tad tighter than loosely put-together cleats. This can make them feel stiff at first, until all the threads loosen a little.
Remember that breaking in baseball cleats demands time, and dedication. Rushing it will not help; dedicate time each day to work with them, then do it as outlined above. Doing this well should break in the new cleats in a week to 10 days.
Repetition, in any shape or form, is best. That, and just wearing them as much as possible before getting into game action. Finally, remember that most important is comfort, because if a young player does not like how his or her feet feel during baseball play, they could think that’s normal and shy away from the game.
After all, new players have nothing to compare it with. Older players will have experience with cleats that fit and will know better what they want. For new players, be more careful in working with them to choose, and break in, new baseball cleats.