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Best Softballs

Updated November 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 23 Models Considered
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  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 143 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best softballs

    Last Updated November 2018

    If you think all softballs look the same, well, you’re right. With that unmistakable bright yellow color, they do all look pretty much the same.

    But as with most products, there are significant differences among softballs that may not be obvious at first glance, and those differences are extremely important. Depending on the type of softball game, league rules, and age limits, you will need a certain type of softball. Pick the wrong type of softball and you’ll just be wasting your money.

    We at BestReviews can help you find the right softball to fit your needs for game play or practice. You’ll find our top softball picks in the product list above and lots of helpful information in our shopping guide below.

    If you’ve ever been hit by a softball, you know the name isn’t quite accurate. A softball must be firm to enable it to stand up to repeated hits with the bat.

    Softball features to consider

    Size

    Measure the circumference of the softball to determine its size.

    • 11 inches: This is typically the smallest size softball you’ll see. Players about nine or younger use an 11-inch ball because it fits their hands better. Some mixed co-ed slow-pitch softball leagues use 11-inch balls when a woman or girl is batting, allowing for more distance off the bat.

    • 12 inches: This is the most common size softball for both fast- and slow-pitch games. Fast-pitch youth players will begin using a 12-inch ball around age ten. Some co-ed slow-pitch leagues use a 12-inch softball when men or boys bat and an 11-inch ball when women or girls bat.

    • 14 inches: Considered more of a recreational softball size, certain slow-pitch leagues do use a 14-inch softball. A 14-inch ball doesn’t travel as far or as fast off the bat as a smaller softball, which makes the game safer.

    • 16 inches: Some senior and wheelchair slow-pitch softball leagues use this size softball. A 16-inch ball is slower off the bat, which makes the game even safer. Certain leagues and softball game styles use a 16-inch ball, but they don’t allow players to wear fielding gloves.

    Materials

    Beyond the yellow color, you may not know all that much about softballs. Understanding how softballs are made and the materials they contain can help you pick the right softball for your needs. And even though we’ve only mentioned yellow, some new softballs are white, and a few are other colors. However, most leagues specify yellow softballs for game play.

    • Cover: The cover of a softball consists of one of two materials: natural leather or synthetic leather. On average, a natural leather cover will last longer than a synthetic cover. Many players prefer natural leather because it offers surer grip, especially in wet conditions. But you can save a little money by purchasing softballs with synthetic leather covers.

    • Seams: It might be hard to see the differences in the seams of softballs, but the differences are important. Some seams are raised slightly above the cover of the ball, enabling a surer grip and making it easier to spin the ball when pitching. Other seams lie flat on the cover. Some seams use red stitching while others use blue. Understand which types of seams your league allows before purchasing softballs.

    • Core: The part of the softball you never see is the core. It may consist of a few different materials, including polyurethane, cork, and/or rubber. Different types of cores result in the different COR and compression ratings discussed below.

    Some coaches use weighted softballs, which are heavier than official softballs, for training pitchers. These softballs are usually odd colors, like green or blue, to easily distinguish them from game balls.

    Specifications

    To ensure you’re using the proper softball for game play in your league, you need to understand the specifications printed on the ball. If your softball doesn’t have the proper markings, an umpire is likely to remove it from the game.

    Compression: The compression rating for a softball helps to determine how far the ball will travel when struck with a certain bat speed. Technically (during testing), the compression rating is the amount of force in pounds from the bat required to compress the ball by one-quarter of an inch. A higher compression rating means the ball has a harder core and will travel farther.

    • Most leagues require balls with a specific compression rating.

    • Common compression ratings are 275, 350, 400, or 525 pounds (some softballs leave off the pounds designation).
       

    COR: The coefficient of restitution, or COR rating, indicates how much the softball will bounce (or its “liveliness”). A ball with a higher COR rating travels farther and faster off the bat.

    • Most leagues require softballs to have a specific COR rating.

    • Common COR ratings are .40, .44, and .52 (some softballs leave off the decimal point).

    Slow-pitch

    A slow-pitch softball is designed to travel at slower speeds off the bat than a fast-pitch ball.

    However, just because a ball has a “slow-pitch” stamp on it, that doesn’t mean the ball meets your league’s rules. Pay more attention to the size of the ball, as well as the compression and COR ratings to make sure it matches your league specifications.

    Fast-pitch

    A fast-pitch softball has greater speed off the bat than a slow-pitch ball. This speed is designated by the compression and COR ratings.

    Again, just because a softball is stamped “fast-pitch,” it won’t necessarily conform to your league’s rules.

    Organizational stamps

    If a softball meets the specifications of an organizational governing body, it will be stamped with that organization's logo. Common stamps on softballs include USA Softball, the National Softball Association (NSA), and the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA).

    Some local leagues follow all of the rules of a particular governing body, so you need to pick a ball with the right logo stamped on it to ensure it complies with your league’s rules. And the ball still must match your league’s COR, compression, and size specifications.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Different levels and types of softball games require different size balls, ranging from 11 to 16 inches in circumference.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Some types of softballs have a soft exterior that players can squeeze, much like a large safety t-ball. These balls are made for very young players who are just learning the game.

    Softball prices

    Softballs are relatively inexpensive pieces of sports gear, certainly far less expensive than a softball glove or bat. But considering you could use one bat or glove for a couple of seasons or more and you will probably go through dozens of softballs in that same amount of time, the cost of softballs can add up quickly.

    Single softball: New softballs typically cost $4 to $10 each. Leather balls cost more than those with synthetic covers. There isn’t a significant difference in cost between fast-pitch and slow-ptich balls, although slow-pitch balls typically cost a little less.

    Multiple softballs: The best way to save money when purchasing softballs is to buy them by the dozen. You can save from a few cents to about a dollar per ball.

    Practice softballs: Some manufacturers sell cheaply made softballs, dubbed “practice” balls, for $2 or $3 each in multiple-ball packages.

    Non-traditional softballs: Softballs made for younger players have a soft exterior, almost like a t-ball baseball. These safety softballs cost about the same as regulation softballs.

    Training softballs: Softballs called “training” balls are heavier than regulation balls and are intended to help pitchers gain arm strength. These softballs cost $8 to $15 each.

    Dimpled softballs: Some balls that look like softballs but with large dimples and no seams are made for batting practice, specifically for use in automatic pitching machines. (Using a softball with seams in a pitching machine can damage the machine.) Dimpled balls cost about $25 to $50 per dozen, depending on quality.

    The game of softball was invented in 1887 and was originally designed as an indoor game. It used a softer style of ball made with materials similar to a boxing glove, hence the name “softball.”

    FAQ

    Q. How do I know when it’s time to replace a softball?

    A. Most softballs can last for dozens of bat strikes without suffering any damage. But when you see nicks in the ball cover, it’s time to replace the softball. Some of the holes for the seams may expand in size as a softball wears out, or the seam thread may break or pull loose. Cheaply made softballs can develop dents or become misshapen after multiple games or practice sessions.

    Q. Can I use any type of softball for my games?

    A. Different types of softball games require specific types of softballs. If you try to use the wrong type of softball in your game, the umpire will remove it from play. Your softball league and its governing body should tell you the specifications your softball must meet for game play. These specifications are printed clearly on the softball, so they’re easy to understand.

    Q. Why are softballs larger than baseballs?

    A. With the larger size, players aren’t able to throw the softball as fast as they can throw a baseball. The exit velocity of the softball off the bat will be less than that of a baseball because of its larger size, too. Because of the smaller dimensions of the softball playing field, a slower, larger ball is safer.

    Q. Why are softballs colored bright yellow?

    A. Softballs haven’t always been yellow. Once the NCAA adopted bright yellow for its official softballs in 2002, yellow became the preferred color at all playing levels. Using a bright yellow ball is designed to help the batter and fielders see the ball more easily. Because the softball field dimensions are smaller than those of a baseball field, players have less reaction time, so a ball that’s easier to see is preferable.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Writer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Kyle
      Kyle
      Writer
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer

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