A good catcher is the cornerstone of a great team. In fact, the catching position may the most important position on the field. Why? Catchers are involved in every single play. The team counts on them to not only catch all the high-speed pitches thrown right on target, but also to block all the bad ones too. On top of that they have to throw out base stealers, call pitches, align defenses, and be the calming voice of reason when the pitcher has problems. There’s no reason to skimp on catcher’s gear. There’s too much on the line.
So you still want to catch? After you pick out a catcher’s mitt, you’re still going to need a helmet with a sturdy mask to shake off foul tips, a chest protector that can stop balls destined for your ribcage, and leg guards to keep wild pitches and metal cleats from causing serious damage to your shapely shins. You’ll need gear that not only protects you, but that’s lightweight and comfortable to prevent fatigue.
A catcher’s helmet has to be strong enough to fight off errant pitches or foul balls to the face, open enough to provide a complete view of the field, and comfortable enough to wear for hours. There are two styles of masks: traditional and hockey mask style. The traditional style mask slides on over a protective helmet and has adjustable straps on the top and sides. The traditional style mask has been around for years and many catchers still prefer it due to its ease of removal and excellent field of vision. Hockey style masks are aptly names because they resemble what hockey goalies wear. The mask and helmet are combined into one piece. They’re more streamlined than the traditional mask which helps deflect energy from impacts. Catcher’s masks are available in adult and youth sizes and often coincide with your hat size. If you don’t know your hat size, you can measure your head circumference.
Nobody likes to get punched in the gut. And that’s pretty much what an errant fastball feels like. A quality chest protector keeps that pain to a minimum, but it’s important be fitted correctly. Too small and your chest, shoulder or stomach could be exposed, but too big and the excess bulk will keep you from being as agile behind the plate as you need to be.
To make sure you choose the correct size, you’ll want to take a fabric measuring tape and starting from the base of neck measure to right above your waist line. Most brands offer youth, intermediate, and adult sizes. You’ll want to match the measurement you took to within a half inch of the brand’s size.
Keep in mind that the center strap is used to adjust how the chest protector fits between the neck and the waist. Make sure the center strap is tight enough so the protector covers the collarbone, but not loose enough that it moves up to the player’s chin when they squat down into position. The side straps are used to tighten the protector around the waist and hold the pad down to prevent the player from having to reset it whenever they stand up or squat down. Further adjustment can be achieved using the shoulder pads or neck pads, which are generally attached with Velcro.
Pay attention to the quality of materials used in making the chest protector. Higher quality materials generally deaden impact better and feature better ventilation to keep you cool when the summer temperature climbs.
You ever been kicked in the shins? Not all that pleasant. Plain and simple, catcher’s legs take a beating. Foul balls, wild pitches, bats… I start to bruise just thinking about it. A high quality pair of leg guards will protect your knees, shins, ankles and feet from the sting of most impacts, plus just sliding around the catcher’s box will feel a whole lot better. The best leg guards are made from high-grade, durable plastic and energy-absorbing, ventilated padding. Most leg guards are designed to go above the knee to give added protection.
When sizing your leg guards, you’ll want to take a fabric tape measure and starting from the middle of the knee, measure down to your ankle bone. Again, you’ll want to match up your measurement to within a half inch of the manufacturer’s size. The most common sizes are youth (12-13”), intermediate (14”), and adult (16+”). Again, the mobility needed at the catching position demands the best possible proper fit.
Leg guards feature adjustable straps and the knee cap pad can usually be adjusted or detached as well. Foot and toe protectors can be adjusted longer or shorter and some leg guards even come with a detachable extension that connects with a snap or a button.
There are several other pieces of equipment that can help make the position safer and more comfortable. Knee Savers and throat protectors come to mind. Easton Knee Savers and Mizuno Knee Wedges are basically an angled pad that can be attached to the back of the leg guards to prevent knee strain when squatting. Throat protectors attach to the mask with Velcro, snaps, or clips and further protect against balls to the neck area.
Lots of good choices here. Check out our glove guide for more information.
Hey mom and dad, I’m talking to you now. I know it may be tempting to go up a size to squeeze an extra season out of your kid’s catching gear, but equipment that’s too big will not only hinder your young catcher’s ability, it may leave them more susceptible to injury. For instance, the bigger neck hole on a larger sized chest protector could expose a collar bone. Or a loose fitting helmet could easily slide around causing vision problems. Logging innings behind the plate is hard enough without having to fight improperly fitted gear. Whether you are outfitting your kid or yourself, get good fitting gear and get the best quality you can afford.