The new year turns thoughts to—what else?—spring training! If you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate, you may be able to play baseball year-round. But whether you live in a sunshiny place or slog through the snow, longing for a return to the diamond, it’s important you have all the gear necessary to play safely and in style.
Safety defines the essential accessories every baseball player needs. Take care of these items before any style considerations:
Batting Helmet – never step into the batter’s box without a helmet. Your team may supply them for you, but make sure what you put on your head fits and complies with safety regulations set forth by Little League and other baseball organizations. Your league may also require a facemask. Batting helmets are made of hard plastic and come in many colors, but their look is less important than the fit, the padding, and the rating. That said, helmets can provide only so much protection. If a pitcher throws wild or high, no batter should just stand there and wait to get hit. Keep your eye on the ball and your head out of range.
Protective Cup – for guys, it may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. Most pants or shorts made for male players will have a pocket in front to hold the cup. You don’t want to be in the path of a hot grounder or a low line drive without one.
Heart Guard or Chest Protector – these are newer; these are protective compression undershirts with built-in pads to protect the chest area.
Sliding Shorts – even if you’re no base stealer, sooner or later, you’ll have to slide. Sliding shorts protect the player from abrasions when sliding. Yes, they’re another layer under your baseball pants, but it’s better than getting scraped up. Some are made with special fabric designed to keep the player cool and even to keep the garment from getting stinky.
Catcher’s Gear – don’t get behind the plate without a chest guard, leg guards, a catcher’s helmet and a catcher’s mitt.
Mouth Guard – the infielder’s friend. You never know when a grounder will take an unexpected hop and head right for your two front teeth.
Cleats – youth league players should stick to rubber cleats. Older players may use metal cleats. The type of cleats you wear may be at your coaches’ discretion. Try them on before you buy, because different types will feel different.
Batting Gloves – why get blisters when batter’s gloves are available in many colors and styles? They protect your hands and help your grip.
Sunglasses – traditionalists may still use “eye black,” the grease that players smear beneath their eyes to reduce glare. There’s even some research that suggests it works—if it’s the classic kind made of beeswax, paraffin, and charcoal (carbon). The eye patches or stickers don’t seem to work as well. But why mess up your skin when there are so many effective sunglasses that will protect your eyes from glare and UV rays? Some brands even improve visibility, helping outfielders see the ball more distinctly on clear, sunny days. The new high-tech sunglasses are cool looking, too, so you look good while looking for that high pop-fly in the sky.
On to Style
Helmets and other protective gear are essential accessories every baseball player needs. Style choices are optional. Pros might be encased in colorful elbow guards, wrist protectors, and arm sleeves, but these are usually worn for support or protection after specific types of injury. Most players won’t need these—they might make you look cool, but they won’t necessarily enhance performance.
Your team will probably make uniform decisions for you, so the shirt and the type of pants you wear may be foregone conclusions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add your own flair to your look on the field. Think socks. TCK baseball stirrups come in all kinds of colors and patterns so there is a vast array of customization choices available.
Team colors paired with contrasting vertical or horizontal stripes give you an old-school, stylish look while coordinating with the rest of your uniform. If your team wears long baseball pants, you can roll them up to the knee to show off your cool stirrup socks.
Maintaining Your Equipment
Many ballplayers have a special relationship with their gloves and bats; they’re devoted to caring for these basic pieces of equipment. For the gloves, there are various conditioners meant to keep the leather supple and the glove from losing flexibility. When the (usually leather) strings get worn, a glove stringing kit will help restring using a special needle or hook. Just be sure you get a glove that fits. For youth players, don’t go for a glove they’ll have to “grow into.” A glove that’s too big will be frustrating and could limit a player’s skill development. Youth gloves are less expensive, so wait until the player is grown up to go for the adult-sized glove that lasts years.
Some people will never get used to the “clink” of a metal bat and stick to the classic wood version. These should be kept in cool—but not cold—and dry conditions. Don’t get a wood bat wet, and don’t clean your metal cleats with it! Rotate it each time you’re up to keep wear even on all sides.
Some bat care tips apply to both wood and metal or composite bats: for instance, stick to cool temperature for storage, and don’t hit wet or cage balls with it. Keep your bat for your own use and don’t share it with the team. It sounds selfish, but it will extend your bat’s life.
How about hats? They get sweaty and dirty on the field. Don’t wash a vintage hat in a machine—you’ll have to spot clean with a damp cloth and mild detergent. Most newer hats can be washed in the dishwasher or the washing machine. Check the hat’s care label, use warm—not hot—water, and a gentle cycle. You can use a hat form to maintain your hat’s shape while in the wash. Finally, air-dry your hat.
Of course, your teammates will appreciate it and the locker room will be nicer if you keep your uniform and your underthings clean and fresh. If you’ve come in from a muddy field, rinse the dirt off with cold water and pre-soak with recommended detergent. Again, check your care instructions and never use hot water. Air drying is best, but if you need your uniform quickly, use the lowest heat setting in your dryer. Heat can cause shrinking, fade colors, damage elastic, and ruin the letters and numbers that identify you on the field.