When you're ready to play softball, it's important to select the correct ball for the type of game you'll be playing. Even if the majority of softballs look similar with a bright yellow color, certain designs for softballs are made for certain game rules.
The ball you need will depend on the age of the players and the type of pitching that occurs. Leagues have their own specifications regarding softballs, as well.
For fast-pitch softball, our top choice is the Dudley 12-Inch softball. It's a durable ball that will meet the needs of the majority of older players. Read on for help choosing the softball that's right for you.
Considerations when choosing softballs
Pay particular attention to the size of the softball when shopping. Softball sizes are measured using circumference. The age of the players and the type of softball game being played determines the ball size you need.
11-inch: An 11-inch softball is made for younger fast-pitch players and some women's or coed slow-pitch players. The 11-inch softball fits the hands of younger players better than a larger ball. The age cutoff for the 11-inch fast-pitch player usually is age 10, depending on the league rules.
12-inch: The 12-inch softball is the most common type for both fast-pitch and slow-pitch players. Girls fast-pitch players will typically start using the 12-inch softball at age 11, but league rules differ. Men's fast-pitch and women's slow-pitch leagues typically use the 12-inch ball, as well. Some coed leagues will switch between an 11- and 12-inch ball, depending on the gender of the hitter.
14- and 16-inch: Larger softballs are aimed at recreational leagues. These larger balls cannot be thrown or batted with the same speed as 11- and 12-inch balls. Very few leagues use larger balls, though.
We've compiled a list of some of the ways softballs differ from each other, beyond size.
Cover material: You can choose either natural leather or synthetic leather softball covers. Synthetic covers are cheaper, but leather covers deliver a surer grip.
Seams: Seams that are raised above the cover of the ball give pitchers the ability to spin the ball. Other softballs will have seams that are flat to the ball's cover, which reduces spin during pitching. Leagues will have specific rules on the types of seams they allow.
COR: A softball will be stamped with its COR rating, which measures the liveliness of the ball. Leagues have their own rules on the COR rating for a ball.
Compression: A compression rating in a softball measures the distance the ball travels. Again, leagues have rules on specific compression ratings that are allowed.
Slow-pitch vs. fast-pitch: Don't just rely on the stamp on the ball to determine whether it's appropriate for a slow-pitch or fast-pitch game. Follow your league's rules for seam type and COR and compression ratings.
Specification stamps: Softballs may be stamped with ASA, NSA, or USSSA logos. This means the balls meet the specifications and rules of those organizations.
Standard softballs will cost $4 to $10 per ball for either fast-pitch or slow-pitch softballs. You can save some money per ball by purchasing them in quantities of a dozen or more balls. Practice-only softballs are less expensive than balls made for game play.
Q. Is a bright yellow softball the best option?
A. Yellow softballs have become the standard color for official softballs. Batters and fielders can see the bright yellow ball clearly in all conditions. On the condensed softball field, being able to clearly see the ball is important, because of less reaction time.
Q. How do I know if a softball is becoming worn out?
A. Softballs will begin to show wear after repeated use. Some may suffer cuts or scrapes in the cover, have a loose or broken string in the seam, or become misshapen. You should replace these balls or limit them to use in practice.
Softballs we recommend
Our take: This 12-pack of leather softballs mixes performance with longevity, creating a smart option for games and practice.
What we like: Seams on the ball are raised just enough to give fast-pitch softball pitchers the grip they need for spins.
What we dislike: Pricey versus some other softball models.
Our take: When you need a ball that works nicely for practice, this MacGregor model is offered at a great price.
What we like: Includes a leather cover that delivers longevity. Design of seams is made with pitching performance in mind.
What we dislike: These balls do not meet ASA standards or guidelines.
Choice 3: Evil Ball 12-Inch Slow-Pitch Softball
Our take: Long-lasting slow-pitch softball that will perform well in extreme heat.
What we like: This ball is designed to give hitters maximum carry. Seams are flat, which is desirable for slow-pitch players.
What we dislike: Keep an eye on the ball's shape, which may flatten over time.
Kyle Schurman is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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