Guest Author - Traci Falb
Probably the most important piece of equipment you need to play softball is a mitt or a glove. To experienced players, it can be an extension of your hand so it's important to make sure it feels and performs exactly how you would expect it to, so you can play your best. There are so many different styles to choose from but they all come with one common factor. They need to be broken in. A brand new mitt or glove can be stiff and awkward, so many players want to know how to break in their new gloves quickly and correctly.
There seem to be many methods of breaking in a new mitt. Some even sound funny and skeptical. Has anyone ever told you to beat your glove with a bat to break it in? Do you know anyone older than you that swears by shaving cream to make a mitt softer? The truth is that any one of these suggestions would work. People have used them. Heat, abuse and chemicals can all break in a glove to make it easier to open and close. I have heard of people running over their new mitt with their car to break it in. I have also heard of using the oven to "bake" the glove for about ten minutes to break it in. People wrap their mitt with bands and sleep on it, heat it in the microwave (make sure there is no metal), or rub cooking oil and shaving cream into it. While these methods will probably work, they might be a little too abusive if you have a very expensive glove and do not want to risk burning it or over-abusing it.
But the best method for breaking in a mitt though is to actually use it. If you catch a ball with it over and over, the mitt will naturally become softer and more flexible. It will retain the shape of your hand over time and indent slightly where you catch the ball. If you are playing catch to break in your mitt, you are getting practice while you are softening in your glove. Another good way to get practice while breaking in your mitt is to go to the batting cages and catch the balls instead of hitting them. You can also put conditioner on your glove in addition to playing catch with it.
If you buy conditioner to put on your glove, make sure you use it sparingly and wipe off any excess. It is recommended that you place a softball in your mitt whenever it is not in use and wrap it with something to keep it closed. You can tie it closed or use rubber bands. This will help the glove create a ball-shape in the pocket and make it easier to catch. There are bands, wraps, oils and conditioners available to help make your mitt easier to manage. They should all come with instructions and should be easy to use.
If you get lucky, you could find a mitt at a flea market that is already broken in. Every summer in my town, there are yard sales with many used gloves and mitts. They are not only a bargain but also already very flexible. The key is to find one, new or used, that fits great and feels good to catch with. Whether you're using a baseball mitt or a softball glove, it will not take long to break one in and you may have fun doing it.