The catcher position in baseball and softball is said to be one of the most demanding and difficult positions to play in the game. To compete at the position, you must be knowledgeable in all facets of the sport — you're the one helping to lead your pitching staff to greatness. When your pitcher succeeds and your team sees victory, it's largely because of you. To be the catcher, you not only need to have the stamina and durability to catch endless games each season, but you also need to have the right equipment that will protect you from foul balls, home plate collisions, and the day-to-day grind of the position. This guide is designed to help you through the process of purchasing the right catcher’s gear and will teach you about:
Keep in Mind — The Fit is Important
Buying all your gear can be overwhelming, as catchers have plenty of pieces they need to protect their body. Just like with most gear that baseball and softball players wear, the importance of your gear fitting properly is something that can't be neglected. A common mistake people make when purchasing catcher's gear is when parents buy their kids larger gear thinking they'll get more use out of it because they can grow into it. Catcher's gear needs to fit the right way because when gear is too big, it can move around during play and expose certain areas of the body that should be protected. Larger pads will also slow a catcher down when they need to jump quickly to throw a base runner out or run down the line to back up plays at first base.
It's common for catchers to mix and match the brands of their gear as they get older. Instead of buying a complete set of new gear, this practice allows you to replace only the specific gear you need.
Having the right gear will help you excel in the position, but perhaps even more importantly than that, it will keep you safe. Where do you start? We break it down for you here with each piece of gear you need to be the best catcher in your league.
Catcher's Head Protection
There are two types of catcher's masks for players of all ages: the traditional two-piece mask and the modern hockey goalie style mask. While there isn't a definitive “best” style, as with most gear, there are pros and cons to each, and mask style really depends on your personal preference.
Traditional Two-Piece Catcher's Masks
The traditional catcher's masks are those that have been around baseball for as long as most can remember. The image of a catcher throwing his or her mask off during plays at the plate or during other key moments is one that sticks with many fans of the sport. There are benefits and drawbacks to the traditional style mask.
- Cost: Traditional two-piece masks are seen on players of all age ranges and are popular in large part because of their cost — these masks are quite affordable.
- Easy to Throw Off: When it comes to their in-game play, they're easier to throw off for foul balls, plays at the plate, and other dire moments.
- Ventilation: These masks also provide more ventilation than the hockey style mask, which helps keep you cooler during long, hot summer games.
- Less Protection: There are several cons to the traditional style masks, including they don't provide nearly as much protection as hockey style masks. This is especially the case around the ears. A foul tip can hit you in the ear, and a strong back swing can hit you in the batting helmet you wear under the mask.
- Vision Impairment: These masks can be bulkier, causing vision problems in key moments.
Traditional masks are outlawed in some leagues, so be sure to check your league rules before you decide on the type of mask you'll invest in.
Hockey Style Catcher's Masks
Over the past 10 years or so, hockey style catcher's masks have grown in popularity immensely. At this point, the majority of Major League catchers use this type of mask, and there's really no indication of its popularity changing any time soon.
- Protection: One of the main reasons why more players use this style mask is the amount of protection it provides. Catching is one of the most dangerous positions in all of sports, and the hockey style mask offers fuller protection around the face, ears, and eyes.
- Enhanced Vision: Another plus is that when wearing these masks, many catchers feel they can see the field better than when wearing a traditional mask.
- Stability: Finally, perhaps the most positive aspect of these masks is they stay fairly stable in position. They don't move when you have to jump up quickly, and they won't cover your eyes like traditional masks can.
- Cost: These types of masks, while they look great and are superior in protection, are more expensive than traditional masks.
- Not Easily Removable: Another negative is they can be more difficult to remove quickly when trying to catch a foul ball or during other important moments of a game.
How to Measure for a Catcher's Mask and Helmet
Once you've decided on which type of catcher's mask you want, you need to determine the proper size. Generally, masks come in adult and youth sizes, and for the most part, they follow hat sizes. To be sure you have the correct size for your catcher's mask, you can simply use a cloth measuring tape to determine your head's circumference.
Catcher's Chest Protectors
One of the most intense aspects of being a catcher is the potential for an injury to the chest region. There are many vital areas chest protectors can shield, including the collarbones and ribs, and they may even prevent possible cardiac injuries. Without a quality chest protector, you risk severe, possibly even fatal injuries. This piece of equipment needs to fit properly to prevent injury during a play.
There is a difference between a chest protector for softball players and baseball players. Softball player chest protectors have a break in the chest to help fit the shape of female players. Chest protectors for women also don't come with removable groin protectors. Even for men, the groin protector is not a required piece of the chest protector, but we will touch more on that later.
Features of Chest Protectors
There are many features of a chest protector, and all play a role in helping to protect the player using them.
Wings or Shoulder Pads
The wings or shoulder pads that are attached to a chest protector are meant to help protect the shoulder of the catcher. Without this added protection, a foul tip can strike your shoulder and cause serious damage to the muscle and/or bones. This feature really only became popular in the past decade because at one time players were worried the pads would restrict their throwing motion. Now with more technology behind the construction, you don't need to worry about having your motion restricted. These wings are usually lightweight and will move with you when you're throwing.
The wings or shoulder pads are usually detachable from the main chest protector, using either Velcro straps or snaps, and can be adjusted to provide the utmost amount of protection. Some catchers still prefer to not wear the shoulder pads on their throwing shoulder, but this is an individual personal player preference.
For youth leagues, wearing a groin protector is a requirement. As players get older, they are encouraged to wear a cup. The switch is simple since groin protectors are easy to remove. They are held onto the chest protector with Velcro straps or snaps, and can be added or removed in seconds. While it's not a requirement for high school and collegiate players, some players prefer to have double the protection and use both the groin protector and a cup.
Until you play the position of catcher full time, you won't know whether you prefer to use the groin protector or not. Some players remove them because they feel they inhibit their movement when stepping to throw. If you do decide to remove the groin protector, you should keep the Velcro area clean from dirt and debris to ensure it will continue to work should you ever want to attach it again.
What Size Chest Protector Should I Get?
As we touched on earlier, you want to make sure your chest protector fits properly at all times. To ensure you get the right size, measure yourself from the top of your sternum (just above your chest plate) to your waist, and this will give you the length for the best fit.
Chest protectors are measured by their length, so you need to accurately measure yourself. As long as you have the correct length, you should be able to adjust the tightness of the straps on the back. If necessary, you can tie off the straps to the appropriate snug fit. When purchasing for youth players, remember not to purchase anything larger than the player's current size. Do not buy a larger chest protector in hopes your player will grow into it, as this will not ensure the best protection and can be dangerous.
Catcher's Shin Guards
Shin guards are important as they help protect from scrapes on your knees and shins when going for foul balls and pitches in the dirt.
What Size Catcher's Shin Guards Should I Get?
To get the proper measurement for your shin guards, you will need to measure from the middle of your knee to your anklebone. Look for a shin guard that's within a ½ inch of the measurement. Guards vary in size depending on the manufacturer. Sizes of shin guards usually fall within three categories: youth, intermediate, and adult, which fall in the 9-12, 12-15, and 16+ age ranges respectively.
When you try on your shin guards before purchase, you should have your uniform on to ensure you get the best fit. You also want to make sure the ankle plates are resting on the top of the tongue of your cleats. They should be snug on your legs, but not too tight. You'll want to make quick movements when trying them on to ensure the guards don't slip and that they stay comfortably in place.
Other Catcher's Gear
For ultimate safety, there is other protective gear you can consider including throat protectors and knee savers.
Many little leagues require this piece of gear that should hang off the lowest bar of the catcher's mask. It shouldn't be too tight, and when the catcher looks up, the throat protector should dangle down and protect the neck area.
Many people consider knee savers to be the catcher's best friend. They relieve the pressure and stress off your knees. There's some discussion as to whether young players need knee savers. The controversy lies in a debate over whether they're an important tool to help save young players' knees, or if they could potentially hinder the growth of the leg muscles, and in turn, the endurance of the player. Some even argue that they make a player lazy, but for those players coming off knee injuries, most agree knee savers are definitely valuable.
Catchers can't use a regular fielding glove. There are mitts made specifically for the position that help protect your hand and make things like scooping a pitch in the dirt easier to do. For more information on catcher's mitts, check out our Glove Buying Guide.
When you first start shopping around for catcher's gear, one of the first things you'll likely notice is that the lighter pieces can be more expensive. Keep in mind that the difference in cost will often be a result of the material used, which is designed to be very durable, while still allowing a catcher to be as agile as possible. The difference between the lighter and heavier equipment doesn't always correlate to quality — just because the lighter gear is more expensive doesn't mean that the heavier gear won't protect you as much. It's really a matter of comfort, personal preference, convenience, and how much you want to spend.