Most leagues provide coaches with the basic equipment needed to play. I find that there are additional items worth while for a coach to purchase: bats, balls, buckets, helmets (with chin straps), throw down bases, an extra batting tee, a first aid kit, cones and a good equipment bag if your league does not provide one. You may find that there are other items which you find will be useful for your team.
When purchasing equipment there are two considerations. Cost is important, but most important is safety. The primary objective in selecting and buying equipment, and deciding when to replace it, is safety. There are many choices in equipment, from inexpensive to expensive. Most options will work quite well, so you should ask: Does it fit properly? Will it protect your players? Will it help your team to get better? Will it help you to run a more effective practice?
No matter what you choose to buy, there are two primary sources.
Local sporting goods stores. Buying from a local sporting goods store has several benefits. First, you will help to build support for your team, or program, within your local community. Financial support for your program comes from your community so it makes sense to reciprocate and buy from local merchants. Further, equipment, if in stock, is available immediately - no waiting or paying for shipping. Finally, if you ever need a replacement or repair, your local dealer is ready and waiting to provide service.
Catalog or Internet stores. There are a number of companies that sell through catalogs and/or the Internet which often have prices lower than the local sporting goods store. Most of these companies have a wide range of products with several manufacturers for each product. This provides you with a wide variety of choices and cost. One disadvantage is that shipping cost and time must be added to each order. So, if you need something quickly this may not be the way to go. Some of the companies which sell by catalog and/or Internet are: (listed alphabetically)
Anaconda Sports, 2 Anaconda Drive, Lake Katrine, NY 12449 800-327-0074 www.anacondasports.com
ATEC, 655 Spice Island Dr., Sparks, NV 89431 800-998-ATEC www.atecsports.com
Baseball Express, P O Box 792310, San Antonio, TX 78279-2310 800-937-4824 www.baseballexp.com
Beacon Ballfields, 2224 Pleasant View Rd. #6, Middleton, WI, 53562 800-747-5985 www.ballfields.com
Longstreth, 28 Wells Rd., Parker Ford, PA 19457 800-545-1329 www.longstreth.com
Masune First Aid & Safety, 500 Fillmore Ave., Tonawanda, NY 14150 800-831-0894 www.masune.com
Osborne Innovative Products, 2221 Garrett St., Enumclaw, WA 98022 800-325-7238 www.oipsports.com
JKP Sports, Inc., P.O. Box 3126, Tualatin, OR 97062 800-547-6843 www.jugssports.com
Western Athletic Supply, P O Box 5407, Riverside, CA 92517-5407 800-624-6637 www.wasupply.com
If you request a catalog from these companies you can build a reference source which will allow you to see quickly what products are available, at what cost. This is information you need to have when you consider purchasing equipment. Being better informed frequently leads to buying a better product at a lower cost.
The second choice you must make concerns what equipment to buy. What equipment does your team need? Some items are mandatory: bats and balls, helmets, a first aid kit and an equipment bag. Thoughts about each of these follow.
BATS Today, many players buy their own bat so there is less need for teams to purchase bats. If you do buy a bat a major consideration is the length to weight difference. The higher the number the lighter the bat relatively. For example, a 28 inch, 20 ounce bat would be -8, a 28 inch, 15 ounce bat would be -13. The second bat would be 5 ounces lighter, easier to swing and control. In general, buy the bat with the higher number length to weight difference. A fungo bat is also a good investment if you hit a lot of balls in practice. If you use a batting cage keep your old bats to use in the cage. Use in the cage is hard on bats and it is not cost efficient to wear out new bats in the cage.
games and practices most youth leagues use regular or restricted flight balls.
It is a good idea to buy an extra dozen each season to make sure you have
plenty for practice. There are
also several other balls you should consider adding to your teams
¡ Whiffle Balls - get baseball and golf size. These are excellent for practicing fly balls, drills and indoor hitting.
¡ Tennis Balls - for use in soft toss pitching machines and also for drills emphasizing quickness and hand eye coordination
¡ Indoor Balls if you practice in a gym. A good choice is the Diamond Flexi-Ball. FlexiBalls are softer than traditional hardballs without sacrificing durability or liveliness. It looks and feels like a real ball and is a great practice baseball for drills or indoors. It also has good seams for pitchers.
¡ Pitching Machine Balls - a must if you have access to a pitching machine. The dimpled type last longer and getting ½ white and ½ optic yellow allows you to have batters hit the white one and bunt the yellow one, or whatever choices you request.
¡ Used pitching machine balls. Save them to use for pre-game soft toss on a wet field. A wet field is not good for regular softballs.
BUCKETS Buckets are handy places to keep balls and are easily moved around your practice area. An empty bucket in back of the pitcher during batting practice, to which balls hit are returned, allows the team to keep balls from rolling all over the field. The ball comes back in and is immediately put in the bucket. During infield, a coach at home plate hits balls out of a full bucket. The first baseman catches the ball and tosses it into an empty bucket. When the bucket at first base is full the first baseman switches buckets with the coach. Buckets are also good targets for throwing contests and they make great seats for coaches.
BATTING/RUNNING HELMETS An efficient approach is to buy the one-size-fits-all helmet. These work just as well as those with specific sizes and it makes things simpler as your players will not have to switch helmets, batter to runner, etc. Snap on chin straps are helpful as they will keep helmets from falling off. A note of caution here, most players are not excited about using the straps. Many leagues are now requiring a wire face guard to be attached to the helmet. Helmets, now available with holes for pony tails are generally more comfortable for girls who have a pony tail.
THROW DOWN BASES A valuable tool which allows you to set up a field anywhere, in a gym, a lawn, or a basketball court. The two basic types are the orange molded vinyl and white rubber with suction ribbed undersides.
BATTING TEE There are many different products from which to choose. Most are made of aluminum, molded rubber or plastic. A batting tee gives your hitters one more hitting station while allowing them to concentrate on hitting a ball at a specific spot - high and in, low and out, etc. Make sure the tee is adjustable up and down and in and out. A tee which can be disassembled and easily carried is extra useful.
FIRST AID KIT A first aid kit is a MUST. Items it should contain are adhesive bandages (small and large), a first aid antibiotic ointment (NEOSPORIN is good), gauze tape, adhesive tape, clear tape, instant cold packs, Vaseline, Advil, Tylenol or Aspirin, non adhera sterile pad (2 x 3), gauze sponges (4 x 4 - 8 ply), latex gloves (for handling blood or bleeding), Q-Tips, nail clippers and an ace bandage. Another helpful item is a list of medical alerts, medicine allergies, or anything of a medical nature which needs to be known about your players. Put this information on a 3 x 5 card and tape it to the inside of your first aid kit. Masune is a good source when ordering large quantities of first aid supplies.
CONES Small plastic or rubber cones which you can use to mark off playing areas or for drills. Cones are about 6 high and are normally fluorescent orange or red and highly visible. They are available at most hardware stores.
EQUIPMENT BAGS A bag with the dimensions of 36" L x 15" H x 15" W should enable you to carry all your equipment comfortably. Having a good suitable equipment bag makes moving the equipment from your house to the car to the field and back a much easier task.
There are other items to consider (listed alphabetically below), if your budget will allow. Clearly, some of these items are more appropriate for older teams or more competitive teams, but all the items are useful for a baseball team.
CATCHERS EQUIPMENT One piece mask/helmet combinations are easiest to use for the catcher. Weight is also important here. A lighter mask, chest protector and shin guards will be easier for the catcher on a long hot day. Something fairly new is a sun visor for the catchers mask. This is relatively inexpensive, easy to install and helps keep glare out of the catchers eyes.
CLEAT CLEANER This all rubber item permits easy removal of mud from players cleats. It fits easily into an equipment bag and can be available at all practices and games.
FENCE NET A net which hangs from plastic tubes clipped onto a chain link fence. The top of the net clips to the tube and the bottom is connected to a spike driven into the ground. It is set up quickly and allows you to have an additional hitting station at practice or a warm up station before games. It sets up and tears down easily and is portable.
FIELD RAKE If you have your own field, or frequent access to one, a field rake is a good investment. It will help you keep the field safe and playable. A 36 wide, high strength aluminum rake with an aluminum handle will do wonders for your field. A long tooth or screening rake is a good choice.
PITCHBACK A tight net on a frame which will cause a thrown ball to bounce back towards the thrower. The frame is basically an upside down Y with a tightly strung net on it. It can be used from either side, is almost impossible to tip over and provides a great deal of individual practice with little or no maintenance. One good use for this tool is to set it up as a practice station. Each player, using indoor, safety balls, with no glove, throws 25 balls which bounce back as fly balls and 25 which bounce back as ground balls. This gives each player 50 balls to catch. If they practice without using a glove, players must concentrate on catching the ball with two hands. A great practice exercise. Two available models are the Pro-Practice Partner and the Play Back Trainer.
PITCHING PLATES An item used for games and practices, the pitching plate is a necessity. For the best value, and to get a product that can be easily moved without damage, make your own! Go to your local lumber yard and have them cut up a 12 foot, 1 x 6 board into six, two foot pieces. Drill three holes in each piece, in the center of the board, 4 from either end and in the middle. Buy 3 metal carriage bolts for each pitching plate. The bolts are 3/8 by 5, 16 threads. Put the pitching plate in place by pounding the carriage bolts through the board and into the ground. The 16 threads hold the carriage bolts in the ground very well. Be careful not to force the bolts through the hole as they can split the board. To move the pitching plate, pull out the bolts and the plate is portable. Many teams put a pitching plate in the ground for their pitchers pre game warm up because it is easy to install and remove.
PITCHING MACHINE A pitching machine is worth its weight in gold. It is expensive, but well worth the investment. From batting practice to fielding practice a pitching machine will help you get more out of practice time. There are several manufacturers, JUGS and ATEC being among the most well known. In addition, if you are interested in a less expensive, less heavy duty model, you may want to consider the HITTING STREAK from ATEC. The HITTING STREAK is designed to throw light weight safety foam balls. It will throw them at speeds of up to 60 M.P.H., with great consistency and will simulate breaking balls up, down and sideways. It is light weight and portable and will work both indoors and outdoors.
PORTABLE CANOPY OR TENT This helps when you feed the team or want to keep them out of the sun between games. Tents come in many sizes. One specific model is the E-Z UP Tent which has two models: DOME 95 which is 9 ½ x 9 ½ or the DOME 812 which is 8 x 12. This is a completely portable tent with no parts to assemble or tools needed. It sets up in 60 seconds.
PORTABLE, FOLD UP TABLE Another handy item if you need to feed the team between games. There are several types, which when open have a table 26 by 33 and four seats, then fold down into a easily portable size of about 5 wide and 14 by 33. These tables are just right for setting out food for team lunches.
PORTABLE SCREEN The JUGS Instant Screen is a good example of a portable screen. It is 7 by 8 and weighs less than 14 pounds. It pops open and closed in seconds and fits in the trunk of your car. Once popped open it will allow players to hit soft toss or from a tee into the net. A great method of getting your hitters prepared before or between games, again without hitting into a fence.
RADAR GUN A radar gun is a valuable tool for determining the speed which your pitcher is throwing. They range in both price and function from very expensive to relatively inexpensive. A good balance between price and function is the SPORTS RADAR SR3600. These are battery operated, can be used both indoors and outdoors and give quite accurate readings.
ROOM DIVIDER NET If you have access to an indoor facility of any type, purchasing a net which can be tied up to two sides of the room/gym give you the opportunity to create two work areas. Nets can be purchased in any size or strength. For example, a net 40 long and 10 high with a tie rope at the top can easily divide a room/gym into two sections and allow you to have two hitting stations or one hitting and one pitching station. In a gym, tie the rope to a basketball backboard on either side of the room and you are ready to go to work.
SAFETY SCREEN FRAME NET Nets come in different sizes and shapes and can serve many purposes. One of the more versatile is the SB-103 Pitcher Safety Screen with the SB-104 Sock Attachment. The net is on a frame 6 6 high and 6 10 wide with a hole in the middle to allow a pitcher to pitch through or to feed balls from a pitching machine. In this use the net would protect the pitcher/machine feeder during batting practice. With the Sock Attachment, which covers the hole, the net can be quickly converted into a hitting station. A batter can hit off a tee, a soft toss machine or with another player or coach feeding soft toss. Balls that are hit go into the sock and can be quickly and easily retrieved to set up another round of hitting. This is much better than hitting into a fence. Or, a pitcher can throw into the sock so there is no need for a catcher. This net can be used both inside and outside.
SLIDE-RITE A portable sliding pad used to teach and practice sliding without fear, a must for improving sliding skills. It can be used both inside and outside. The sliding pad is made of a durable cordura with an open-cell foam cushion inside the mat. The sliding sheet is made of nylon or canvas. This can be used daily for all types of slides, saving wear and tear on body and clothes.
SOFT TOSS MACHINE There are many different soft toss machines available. Most either drop the ball off a down sloping chute or pop the ball up with some sort of a spring mechanism. In either case the toss machine gives your hitters plenty of opportunity to hit during practice. Machines can feed balls from golf ball to softball size. The smaller the ball the more the batter must concentrate and develop good hand eye coordination. Make sure you buy a machine which can be used both indoors and outdoors.
STRIDE MASTER A training device to restrict the length of the stride. Nylon, easily adjustable, put on or take off in seconds, use safely. A great product if the hitter is taking too long a stride.
STRING WINDER If you need to set up a field a string winder is a handy tool. This can help you set up lines and bases, and get the proper distance every time.
There are other items you can buy that you may find will benefit your team. If you have several equipment catalogs and look through them on a regular basis, you will spot items to buy each time you go through the catalogs.
Reprinted with permission from: A Youth Baseball Coaches Tool Kit