To those who’ve never picked up a bat, softball probably seems like a weekend laugh with friends: beer and brats and minimal effort. But we know better, right? Softball can be serious business. Just like baseball, there’s years of training and practice, and for those who hit the diamond gung-ho and ready to go, some unique equipment demands. Wearing inappropriate gear can result in decreased performance, quicker wear and tear, and even injury.
Imagine trying to wear running shoes on a baseball or softball field. You’ll get zero traction – increasing your chances of pulling a muscle or taking a hard fall when rounding the bases or aggressively fielding. Plus your friends will almost certainly make fun of you, because who wears running shoes to play softball? It’s like wearing flip-flops when running a 100-yard dash.
Fastpitch footwear can be even more specific. To avoid looking (and performing) like an amateur when pitching in women’s softball, cleats with a pitching toe are essential. Fastpitch pitching cleats are largely identical to regular women’s softball cleats in most every way, but an extra layer of rubber or other tough material around the toe sets them apart in the world of ASA fastpitch softball.
To understand why softball cleats with a pitching toe are important, let’s take a brief look at different types of softball game play.
Types of Softball Games
Slowpitch is the most commonly played type of softball, using an 11 to 12-inch ball that must be thrown underhand in an arched path to the batter. This is the sport you often see when you drive by a local diamond on the weekend and see a bunch of 30-somethings dressed like blind circus clowns, drinking cerveza from red Solo cups, and reliving past glories (yes, I am describing myself). Ten members comprise a team, rather than 9, and the infield is quite a bit smaller than a baseball infield, with just 60 feet between bases rather than 90 feet. Slowpitch speeds range between 20-50 MPH, which although true to its name, is still a speed that’ll sting if it hits you.
Fastpitch softball is exactly what it sounds like: a fast pitch that is thrown underhand with a windmill motion. These teams have 9 players, and some of the rules of baseball are also observed in this type of softball game. The range of fastpitch speeds is 65-85 MPH, which is rocket fast and may explain why it looks like fastpitch pitchers’ arms might come out of their sockets.
Modified softball is nearly identical to fastpitch, but the windmill pitching motion is restricted. The arm never goes over the head, as in a standard windmill wind-up. Rather, it swings behind the body and is thrust forward. Pitchers using the modified pitching style can throw at full strength as long as they use proper technique.
In fastpitch, the pitching stance is far more than style and batter intimidation techniques. It, and the nature of the game itself, are the two key factors in why cleats with a pitching toe are necessary. Fastpitch softball pitching has a distinct style that requires dragging the pivot foot across the ground in order to execute a legal pitch. Slowpitch and modified pitch games don’t have this movement.
For the fastpitch softball pitching stance, rules vary depending on the type of competition. In professional and college ASA fastpitch softball competitions, both feet must be touching the pitcher’s plate or rubber at the beginning of the pitch. The pitcher’s push-off foot – which is the same as whichever hand is pitching – rests on the back of the plate, while the toe of the stride leg rests on the front.
When the arm swing activates for the pitch, the heel of the pivot (or push-off) foot lifts and the weight shifts to the stride leg. As the motion reaches completion and the ball is thrust forward, the toe of the pivot foot drags forward as well. If the toe drag doesn’t happen, an umpire can declare the pitch illegal. And toe drag is what can make your cleats look like they’re a decade old instead of a season.
An umpire can declare “crow hopping” if the toe is not dragged when performing a fastpitch softball pitch. According to the ASA, crow hopping is “the act of a pitcher who steps, hops, or drags off the front of the pitcher’s plate, replants the pivot foot, establishing a second impetus (or starting point), and pushes off from the newly-established starting point and completes the delivery.”
Put more simply, crow hopping is a replant and restart of the pitch, giving what some consider an unfair advantage to the pitcher by moving them closer to the batter. Fastpitch softball pitchers can engage in crow hopping without realizing they’re doing it if they have poor posture or form. Even if they aren’t trying to cheat, it is an illegal move that the umpire can penalize by giving the batter a ball.
Why Wear Cleats with a Pitching Toe?
You can probably guess that all that toe dragging leads to some serious wear and tear. Depending on how often a fastpitch pitcher plays and practices, she may be going through softball pitching cleats every couple months – sometimes even faster. While we don’t mind if you need to buy gear more frequently, we’re almost 100% certain that you probably do.
Fastpitch softball cleats for pitchers feature a molded rubber reinforcement on the toe cap that helps buffer against the wear of repeated toe drag. While the strength of this reinforcement varies from brand to brand, many pitchers report that purchasing cleats with a pitching toe extends the life of their cleats by months or even years.
Softball cleats with pitching toes also aren’t just for pitchers. Infield positional players and catchers can see real benefits as well. Catchers because they live on their toes and infield positional players because of the drag on dirt when they throw to first.
So, if wearing gear that not only makes you look like you know what you’re doing, but also saves you money is something that appeals to you, take a look at our fastpitch cleat options.
Check out this video featuring former Olympic medal-winning fastpitch softball pitcher Michele Smith giving her review of one of 3N2’s top selling softball pitching cleats! Not only does she believe in the performance value of pitching toes, she also recommends them as a training tool to determine if your pitching form is proper based on drag.
Options for Aftermarket Pitching Toe
The easiest and most durable option is just buying cleats with the pitching toe reinforcement. If you already have cleats that you’d like to attempt to make last longer, there are some aftermarket options.
A pre-molded pitching toe is a hard rubber piece affixed to the outside of the cleat’s toe box with a strong adhesive. This takes place either at home or by sending to a company that specializes in this service.
You can send your softball pitching cleats to a company that will custom dip the cleat’s toe box in a solution that eventually hardens into a protective coating.
If you’re feeling brave and self-reliant, you can opt for a kit that includes the solution (usually epoxy and polyurethane), applicator, and detailed instructions for best use.
The obvious risk of purchasing a home kit is making a mess of your cleats and possibly damaging them, or having it be ineffective because the instructions were not followed correctly. If you choose an aftermarket option for cleats with a pitching toe, be sure to do plenty of research and make your decision based on combined factors like price, company trustworthiness, and efficacy, rather than just one factor alone.