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How to Break In a Catcher’s Mitt

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Written By
Xan Barksdale

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times…a catcher’s mitt is his most important tool and he must take excellent care of it!  That means protecting it while it’s in your catcher’s bag and not letting it get smashed, mangled, or mis-formed.  It also means that you don’t toss it on the ground in the middle of the dugout between innings, but you gently set it down where it’s not going to get lost or stepped on.

You may think I’m crazy and going over the top with taking care of your mitt, but I genuinely think it’s that important.  If it’s not that important to you, maybe it should be…

Taking care of your mitt starts the second you buy it in a local sporting goods store or receive a box from Baseball Express on your front doorstep.

In this article I want to talk about the most important thing you can do to help get your mitt the perfect shape for you and then how to help keep it that way.

It all starts with how you break it in.

In almost 30 years of either catching, or coaching catchers I’ve heard it all when it comes to how you should break in your mitt.  Some of the tips and tricks are really good, and others can damage your mitt.  Maybe you’ve heard a few of these before:

  • Put it in the oven and “cook” it
  • Rub vaseline all over it
  • Cover it in shaving cream
  • Take your mitt to a sporting good store and have it “steamed”
  • Nuke it in the microwave
  • Putting it under your mattress and sleeping on it
  • Rub oils all over the pocket
  • And some other crazy ideas! (Leave a comment below and let me know the craziest thing you’ve seen or heard of when it comes to breaking in a mitt)

Below I’ll discuss what you should, and shouldn’t do, when breaking in your new mitt.

Using Foreign Substances

Like I mentioned above, I’ve heard of players using everything under the sun to try to break in their mitt more quickly.  Overall, I have to say that I’m not a fan of putting any foreign substance on a mitt…that includes oil, vaseline, shaving cream, etc.

From my experience, when players put these substances on their mitts the leather seems to almost always break down more quickly.  This means that it’s going to rip sooner and you’re going to have to buy a replacement sooner…more money out of your pocket!

While I don’t use it every day, I do still have my All Star mitt that I used my least year in pro ball with the Braves and it’s in great condition.  I probably need to tighten up some of the laces, but other than that it is game ready right now!  I believe there are two reasons it’s still in game shape.

  1. It’s a high quality mitt that was built with the best leather.
  2. I have made sure that no other substance has ever been put on it to preserve that leather.

Heating it in the Oven or Microwave

Please don’t do this…

I don’t know another way to put it, but if you love your catcher’s mitt please don’t do this.  It may seem like a “quick fix” because cooking it like it’s the Thanksgiving turkey will make it come out softer and more pliable, but it’s bad for the leather.  It makes the leather weaker and causes it to break down faster.  If you want a rip in your catcher’s mitt this would be a great start.  If you want it to last a few seasons this is not the way to go.

Simply put, keep your mitt out of the kitchen!

Keep a Ball in the Pocket When You’re Not Using It

I’ve found that one of the best way to preserve the shape of your mitt is by keeping a ball (or a few balls) in the pocket of the mitt when you’re not using it.

So, every day when you’re done using your mitt go ahead and place a ball in the pocket.  This will help keep the mitt in the proper shape when you’re not using it and help prevent it from getting smashed or misshaped.

It can also be helpful to put a belt around your mitt after you’ve put the ball in the pocket so that you know it’s not going to come out.

The #1 Tip for Breaking In Your Mitt

It’s not rocket science, but here it is…

The absolute best way to break in a mitt is by simply going out and using it.  Grab a teammate, brother, dad, neighbor, anyone who likes to play catch and ask them to throw with you.

Use it in bullpens to help break it in even more quickly.  If you have access to a pitching machine set it up and receive some balls coming in at a high velocity.

The reason that actually using it works the best is because it’s going to shape to your hand when you do this.

Think about your favorite pair of flip flops…they’re soooo comfortable, right?!  How about the first day you bought them?  That’s right, they were about as comfortable as wearing the box they came in.  But, they get more comfortable over time because they shape to your feet.  Your catcher’s mitt is no different, and the more you use it the more quickly it will shape to your hand.

If you were hoping to read this article and get some shortcut quick-fix for breaking in your mitt, I hope you’re not disappointed.  There certainly are things that you can do quickly to soften the leather like drowning your mitt in oils and using the Stouffers Lasagna recipe.  But, ultimately, those do much more harm than good and they’re not recommended.

Whenever you get a new mitt start playing catch with it…a lot!

Be sure to leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

Written By
Xan Barksdale

Comments

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Joey Tortorello

I use my sons (9) catchers glove a lot when we warm up. Is this bad for it because I noticed the ball popping out a lot after a pitch.

Alec R

Hah! I like this - no shortcuts to breaking in a glove (as with most things in baseball). Bought a Nokona fielder's mitt a decade ago and have done nothing but played catch with it and kept a ball with it in its bag, and it's in great shape.

Felix Santiago

I just got a catchers mitt for Christmas and i've been playing catch with it 6 days out of the week,every week and i put 2 balls in it and wrapped it in a belt,but it still hasn't broken in to my liking,its been over 2 months since i've got it what do you recommend i should do to break it in the fastest.MY glove is the 2017 rawlings gold glove elite series catchers mitt.

Xan Barksdale

I don't see any benefit to it.

David

What about "steaming" would you recommend this for youth gloves and catching mitt?

Xan Barksdale

Dave, thanks for the comment! I actually just developed a protective case that is designed to help mitts keep their shape, and extend the life of the leather. It's called The TANK and you can check it out here: catching-101.com/tank

Dave Palmeri

Now that baseball season is close to being over for most could you please offer advice on what should be done in the off season to clean, protect and shape it. My son has a new A2K that will serve him well for years to com as long as it is cleaned and cared for properly. Thanks

David Nelams

Not trying to be funny but the heading should read "Common sense"! There are so many videos on the web that only confuses a kid. This is my 9yr old sons 1st yr playing catcher,his previous position was 2nd. We're looking forward to your newsletters

Mark McGuire

Xan, My recently acquired catcher Coach introduced me to your website this season. (I really like your catcher coaching by the way). I have always been a strong advocate for coaching my catchers. I think I memorized Bob Bennetts video on Catcher coaching. I relace a lot of gloves. And catchers mitts are certainly fun and challenging. Before I relace a glove or at the end of a season, I like to clean it. Especially those gloves that have had the factory oil treatment in the pocket (like the Wilson A2000 or A1000 models). These seem to accumlate dirt in the pocket. I use water and a little soap (surfactant) to help remove the dirt and oil from the leather in the pocket. I have tried other things that you have mentioned but a clean wet rag with a little soap and some elbow grease gets the job done. Once I have cleaned or relaced a glove, I like to use Pecards Glove Conditioner to moisturize and seal the leather. Conditioning is really about sealing the glove. ASO says it best in his videos. The wierdest thing I have heard doing to "break in a glove" is submerging the glove in motor oil. Yeah not going there. I have heard coaches and past players talk about submerging their glove in water (hot, cold, ice water, room temperature). I really like ASO's video's break in methods. He is the BEST! My one concern about the "go play catch Method" of breaking in a glove is that my young players, (now playing 13U). Is that their hands are not strong enough to even begin to squeeze a top of the line All-Star, Rawlings, Wilson, or Mizuno, etc glove. So then you end up with the "FOLDOVER pocket". Not the deep pocket of a correctly formed catchers mitt. (You just took a $250 catchers mitt and rendered it nearly useless. I see it ALL THE TIME!) So for my players, I tend to shop the used market. And try to find high end gloves that were broken in "CORRECTLY" and are looking for their second home. Correctly meaning that a good pocket has created and maintained. Often they will have broken laces in the pocket, so off to the lacing station they go. For storing a glove, I agree with you. You just spent $250-500 on your most IMPORTANT AND EXPENSIVE TOOL in your bag and then you drop it on the ground, step on it, and kick it under the bench. (DO NOT GET ME STARTED!) I have tried several things. (Mizuno glove wrapper, rubber bands, belt, tightly wrapped clean cloth.) My favorite is the Markwartz Glove Locker. I gave these last fall to ALL OF MY 13U players. My son has been using them for his gloves the last 2 years. They are the BEST invest that I can make in the life of his glove. He plays with an early model Rawlings Pro Preferred 32.5 catchers mitt. After every game, he knows to put his glove in the glovelocker. There is a pocket in the glovelocker for a ball and then it all gets wrapped up.

Yves

If the leather is really stiff like it usually is on higher end mitts, use it to play catch with a heavy ball. The heavier the ball the quicker it will break in and the pocket will form naturally. Once broken in don't use it with heavy balls anymore because you will shorten its lifespan and maybe even break some laces.

Anonymous

I have had a school coach that was also one of my teachers and they recommended placing a couple of my school textbooks (hard cover, 1-4 inches thick each) on top of it with a ball inside. It's similar to the mattress method. But they recommended that you actually use the glove

Kevin christman

You r the best always! I tell people to see you and listen and read what you say! Thanks for keeping our young catchers on their path to greatness Kc Parent,scout,coach.and baseball lifer! ⚾️

James

Xan, Agreed playing catch best method. Here in the northeast, in the winter, months had to go to a batting cage for 30 minutes each session. Took about four sessions (breaking in a Rawlings ProPreferred). Will keep a ball in pocket when not in use. In winter months right after season will work in a small amount of shaving cream with lanolin. Matt Wallbeck recommends Lexol leather conditioner. Haven't tried that yet.

Chase

My friend put a ball in his glove and his dad ran over it with his truck.

Joshua Frommelt

Good article Xan. I've learned first hand how using oils, leather conditioner, steaming ect can in the long run do more damage in the longevity of your glove. One key point to note from the article, buying a $50 catching mitt and expecting it to hold-up for any period of time is a unrealistic expectation. Sure you may get one season from it, but chances are the shape is gone, and pocket is long lost never to return. Buying quality gloves with higher-end leather, along with the proper care will ensure you're not breaking in a new glove every year.

Dave

What is your opinion on the web gem product for gloves. My son uses a allstar pro elite glove and wanna do the correct thing for him to be able to use it for a long time. Thanks

Mark Gibson

Great information, and not just because this is the same route my 16YO son uses to break-in his gloves. On that note, a great follow-up article would be "when to retire your catchers glove?" A topic that is (or should be) near and dear to any dedicated catcher.

Chris Sheehy

We bought my 10 yr old son a Rawlings mitt, it was a little on the cheap side. He's used it for under one season, broke it in exactly how you said...., sadly you get what you pay for. Finally broke down and ordered the all star mitt! He's dying for the delivery date! Thanks Xan for the great tips!

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