Catchers’ gear has been around for over a century. The very first piece of protective gear for catchers was used in the 1870s, when catchers started using rubber mouth guards, similar to the mouth guards used by the boxers of the time. Professionals developed a mask in the late 1870s to add on to the rubber mouth guard, similar to the one used in fencing. While it was first referred to as a “rat trap”, the mask was patented by 1878 when Spading started selling it in their catalog. Padding and chin rests were added to the mask shortly thereafter. Masks with an open view were patented in 1878 and subsequent additions such as forehead and chin rests were added. And aluminum rather than mesh masks were finally developed in the 1920s.
As masculine society considered it unmanly to wear protective equipment, the evolution of the chest protector was a woman’s idea. The wife of Charles Bennett, a catcher for the Detroit Wolverines in 1883, came up with a pad that protected Charles while he played the position of catcher. Some other catchers around the same period wore pads of sheepskin under their uniforms for fear of ridicule. While the original chest protectors were made out of sheepskin, by 1891, catchers were using inflatable vests. Twelve years later, these vests had pads that covered the shoulders as well. Though manufacturers eventually switched to foam as their material of choice in the chest protector, today’s chest protectors provide the best protection possible with the least amount of weight. The weight of the chest protector in 2008 was less than half the weight of that piece of equipment in used until 1950.
In 1907, a New York Giants catcher donned a pair of shin guards despite the heckling from the crowd. Though catchers had already started wearing other pieces of catchers’ gear, this was the first time someone had shin guards. Fiberboard was used before the 1920s, with Rawlings selling the equipment. The type of leg guards that are used today had a prototype design which was patented in 1927. The Dodgers created a shin guard with hinges in the 1950s. In the 1960s, plastic replaced the fiber as the material of choice for the leg guards.
The materials have evolved even more in the 21st century. In 2013, Red Sox catcher David Ross added extra protection to his helmet by wearing a skullcap made out of Kevlar under his helmet to avoid additional injuries after incurring a concussion.
With the great amount of protections added to the equipment for catchers, the current level of defense is greater than it has ever been before. In order to take advantage of the equipment that offers better protection, it is important to understand the ins and outs of purchasing that equipment.
You know that you need catchers’ equipment, but you really have no idea where to start. What type of equipment do you need? What are the factors that you should consider when looking to purchase new equipment? If you are completely new to the process of purchasing catchers’ equipment, there are likely more variables than you had previously thought possible.
Because the proper equipment for the challenging position of catcher is critical, it is important that you are well informed before looking to purchase equipment. If you are trying to understand how to buy catchers’ gear, you want to consider whether the player is playing a short season or a long season. When buying for a player who plays very long seasons and wants to be able to have equipment to last a few seasons, it might be the best idea if you purchase equipment that is more expensive. If the catcher is only going to play through short seasons, they won’t need as expensive of equipment.
Remember also that the lesser expensive equipment will be able to provide adequate protection. Part of the price increase in catchers’ equipment is due to the quality of the sweat absorbing material which will wick the moisture away from the body and give the player greater comfort. More expensive equipment will also have light material designed to absorb the shock of the ball, adding to greater comfort for the player who is not weighed down by the heavier equipment.
If you are purchasing equipment for a child, don’t buy the equipment with the idea that the child will grow into it. Poorly fitted equipment can lead to injury, especially if the shield moves at the time when the ball hits.
What are some primary factors to consider as part of your catchers’ gear buying guide?
- Protection: This is at the top of the list when you are thinking about buying the equipment. Safety is by far the most important feature to look for.
- Comfort: While catchers’ equipment may not be the most comfortable, getting protective equipment that is as comfortable as possible is essential, as catchers need to change position frequently.
- Durability: Will the player be playing a long season with many games? You will need to think about buying equipment that can last for a long time.
- Brands: You might want to pick one brand over another depending on reviews you have read. All major brands featured at quality sports stores or on reputable websites can offer excellent protection, but high end brands may be a better purchase depending upon certain variables such as duration of use and the level of the player.
- Price: Catchers that only play occasionally will be able to spend less for equipment that won’t last long versus the player who will play at least one game a week throughout multiple seasons.
- Sizing: Catchers’ gear sizing is as important as picking quality equipment. If you pick quality equipment, but it is in the wrong size, it won’t work well, if at all, for protection.
Purchasing Items Separately or in Catchers’ Gear Sets
When considering whether or not you want to purchase the items separately or as part of a set, it is important to note not only the cost of buying individually or as complete sets but to view the quality as well. Looking at a set will also give the novice an idea of exactly what items they need.
Included in a set of catchers’ equipment may be a catcher’s helmet, a chest protector, leg guards, and a throat guard. Some sets don’t include the throat guards, while other sets include knee and shin pads. Costs for sets range between $100-$400.
Players can buy catchers’ helmets as separate items. These cost approximately $100. Costs will vary depending upon the size of the helmet.
Chest protectors are also critical pieces of the equipment and are priced between in the $50-$100 range, depending upon the type of fabric used. The different fabrics allow for range of motion as well as the quality of the protective plate. Chest protectors, like helmets, come in a variety of colors.
Shin guards, like the other pieces of equipment, come in a variety of colors and can be purchased individually. Prices vary from around $80 to $150. The price differential is based upon the type of material used — which allows the player to remain cool under the padding — as well as the quality of the shock absorbent materials.
It appears that the costs of purchasing the items individually are greater than the cost of purchasing a set. However, you have much greater variety when you buy each item alone, as you are able to choose from a larger amount of colors and quality based upon your individual needs.
Many people decide to purchase items separately so that they can ensure the best fit. Because the fit of the equipment is so important, you may not be able to get the right size with all the pieces of the equipment if buying as a set. But by purchasing individually, you can ensure that the fit of each piece is very specific to your body. When buying for a youth or child, it is common to buy pieces one at a time, as they are still growing. For instance, a youth may need a large helmet but smaller pieces for the rest of the equipment.
Nevertheless, if you are purchasing equipment for a brand new catcher, you may want to consider buying a set. If you are particularly inexperienced about buying equipment for a new catcher, this may be the best bet because you won’t need to guess as to whether or not you are completing the measurements properly. Once the catcher gets some experience under their belt, you and they will likely have enough experience with the proper fit and the know-how to be confident that you can competently purchase the pieces of equipment separately.
Catchers’ Helmets Fitting and Sizing
Whether you have decided to buy the pieces separately or as part of a set, you need to understand the proper manner for both sizing and fitting.
There are two basic styles for catchers’ helmets. These are:
- Traditional style: This type of mask is worn with a backwards helmet without coverage for the ears. Prohibited for lower levels of play, higher-level players like it because it’s easily removable and obstructs their vision the least. This helmet has three straps, and the top strap will allow the player to adjust where the mask is placed on the face. The lower two straps allow the wearer to make adjustments as to the tightness of the mask.
Catchers measure their size for the traditional style using a tape measure above the ears (also known as their ‘hat size’). Generally, mask size is either youth and adult or small and large. Since the hat size determines the size of the helmet, it is important to know the player’s measurement before purchasing a helmet. If you are unable to measure the player’s head, a general rule of thumb is that players younger than 12 will usually wear a small while those over 13 will wear an adult size.
- Hockey style: This type of mask offers better protection and more comfort than the traditional style. Like the traditional style helmet, this helmet has straps, which you can use to adjust it. You can also change the chin pad allowing it to go higher or lower or closer into or further away from the helmet.
Sizing and Fit of Chest Protectors
Chest protectors for baseball will have a different shape than softball chest protectors, which are designed to fit a woman’s chest. Baseball chest protectors often have a groin protector. Often required for youth leagues, players may remove the protector for high school and higher-level teams. If removed from the chest protector, the higher-level players should use a cup instead.
Because chest protectors protect vital organs including the stomach and the heart, it is important that they fit well. To properly measure for a chest protector, use a tape measure from the bottom of the neck to just above the waist. Make sure to measure without too much clothing covering the chest as measuring with bulky clothing on can cause an inaccurate measurement. Many chest protectors are broken down into sizing with three categories. Youth sizes are under age 12, while intermediate, the next category, is up to age 15. Those above age 16 take adult sizes. As these are only estimates for sizing, it is very important to rely on the actual measurements.
As with helmets, the straps on the chest protector are very important to ensure proper fit. The top strap must be adjusted in such a way as to cover the collarbone, but allow the player to squat down without having the chest protector hit them in the chin. The strap on the side must be sufficiently tight enough so that it does not change the fit of the chest protector when the player changes positions from squatting to standing.
The expense of a chest protector will increase if a greater amount of ventilation material is used. Additionally, a higher priced protector will absorb the impact of the ball better, thereby increasing the likelihood that the ball will not bounce off the chest protector. It is easier to stop a ball that doesn’t bounce and roll away if you are wearing a vest with lower energy transference.
Leg Guards and Their Proper Fitting and Sizing
Since catchers are down on their knees frequently to catch and stop balls, having leg guards that fit well and absorb shock is very important. Guards that are more expensive are designed to withstand greater wear and tear. So, if you are a catcher who doesn’t play many games, you probably won’t be in the market for high end guards.
Proper measurement is essential so that you will have adequate protection when catching the low balls. You will need to measure from the middle of your knee to your ankle at the top of the bone. Even though leg guards come in the youth, intermediate, and adult sizes, similar to chest guards, accurate measurements can ensure that your equipment fits properly.
Straps on the leg guards are adjustable, just like the straps of the other equipment. However, you should definitely have your game pants on before adjusting the straps so you can test the fit. The kneecap, toe and foot protectors are also adjustable.
Catchers’ mitts or gloves are different from the typical baseball or softball gloves. For one, they have more padding, and are larger than those of other players. Catchers’ mitts are different because they don’t have separately cut out fingers in the glove as other positions do. This particular design will enable the catcher to catch the fastballs for a longer period without the glove breaking down. Therefore, these gloves are often stiffer than the gloves of those who play other positions, and they take longer to break in.
In addition to the chest protector, helmet, mitts, and leg guards, there are also accessories for catchers. While these items are not very expensive, they provide necessary protection. The throat protector attached to the catcher’s mask should hang loosely, in order for the player to be able to turn their head easily without getting caught on anything.
Older players who may have experienced some knee pain often incorporate knee savers into their equipment. Knee savers are pads attached to the adjustment straps at the back of the leg guards. Younger players may be discouraged from using them, because they may use them as a crutch when kneeling. These players may not get down far enough to meet the ball, because they know that the knee savers will allow them the extra cushioning.
What the Pros Wear
If you are buying for an advanced high school player who has visions of playing in the pros one day, perhaps you want to purchase some of the very best equipment, similar to what the pros use. With all of the options available, what types of catchers’ equipment would the pros use?
- About half of major league players use knee protectors.
- Twice as many catchers wear traditional style helmets as those who wear hockey style helmets. Thirty three percent wear hockey style helmets while sixty-seven percent wear the traditional style helmet.
Purchasing the Equipment
Now that you have a thorough understanding of measuring and sizing the equipment, you must decide where you want to go to purchase it.
Schuylkill Valley Sports enables you to pick the equipment of your choice online. If you decide that the equipment is not the right size, you can return it for a full refund if returned within 30 days of receipt. We also have convenient store locations throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey for those who prefer to try on their gear before purchasing. Because of the selection and low price advantage, Schuylkill Valley Sports is the best option when you are seeking to purchase catchers’ equipment.