For the average baseball viewer, or parent of a little leaguer, every ball may seem the same at first glance. Finding the best baseball requires more research though, and we have done that research for you. This complete guide will break down the type of baseballs that are good for batting practice, little league and more professional players. There is no ball that is exactly right for every player, but the iconic ball has to meet certain regulations and in spite of what you may expect, technology has made each ball that much more effective and safe for players young and old. While this guide won’t get too deep into professional MLB style baseballs, it will reference those regulations so that you know where you are starting and how close the ball comes to what you hope you or your little leaguer may be playing with in the future.
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Buyer’s Guide (What to Look For)
A regulation ball needs to be 9 to 9 ¼ inches in circumference and weigh between 5 and 5 ¼ ounces. High-grade balls often have a cork core, about the size of a grape and covered in rubber, that is covered by thick layers of wool yarn and finally layered with a cover. The cover will likely be leather (the traditional cover), or a synthetic cover that will offer a lower cost and resistance to dirt and mud.
The iconic seams, or stitching, come in three types in most cases, flat, rolled or raised. The raised seams are used primarily for beginners. The ball will grip the air better and make for easier control. The MLB uses a rolled seam which allows faster throwing due to the reduced air friction. The flat seams, which work as you would expect, are not great for any flashy pitches, but work perfectly for batting practice as they are most commonly found in pitching machines.
If you remember back to your little league days, you will probably remember the fear of an errant pitch slamming into you. The balls back then were hard and hurt when they made contact with any part of your body. Today, the R.I.F balls, or reduced injury factor, are specially made to be softer but still feel the same as a regulation ball. They use a polyurethane core in most cases and are offered in both reduced and regulation weights.
Batting Practice Balls
While flat stitching is the norm for batting practice balls, there are a number of additional types of balls that meet different needs of players. Mini Balls are about the size of a golf ball and are used to hone sharp hand-eye coordination. Once you are hitting a mini ball, you can have much more confidence in your ability to hit a full-sized ball. They come in two types, soft and fast.
Soft Mini Balls are great for small areas, like a backyard or indoors and travel a shorter distance. The ball only flies at about 40 miles per hour, but that is plenty fast considering they are usually used in machines closer than a traditional pitching machine.
Fast Mini Balls fly at about 60 miles per hour and are made of a harder plastic. They fly farther and are better when you are outside of an enclosed space as they can do some damage if they hit a wall or window.
Next up is the Lite Balls which are the size of a normal ball and come in three styles. You can find Soft, Slider simulated leather balls, and Hard lite balls.
The Soft Lite Balls are softer than normal balls and travel at about half the speed of the hard lite balls. The lower speed is ideal for younger players. This gives them a chance to get their hands and eyes working together to make contact, building confidence without scaring them away from the speed of the ball.
Hard Lite Balls are, as the name suggests, harder and have a dimpled design. They travel faster and more accurately than any other ball listed here, which gives a nice progression for players as they graduate from the others.
Slider Simulated Leather Balls can be used in lite and regular pitching machines but are designed specifically to throw curve balls accurately. The constant curve allows players to get used to the look of a ball that is not coming straight on and gives them the confidence to identify a pitch at higher speeds.
Finally, we have the Real Pitching Machine Baseballs. As mentioned already, they aren’t the same type of ball you will see used in a game, but they give a solid feel to a real ball. There are two types that you can find, Real Poly Baseballs and Leather Pitching Machine Baseballs.
Real Poly Baseballs are all about accuracy and feature a polyurethane build with a dimpled design.
Leather Pitching Machine Baseballs are made for pitching machines, as the name suggests. The low profile, generally flat seams, create a little movement as the ball flies through the air. They also are great with machines that throw curves.
Now that you know what type of balls are out there, and not all of them may make our list, you at least know what type of ball to look for if you need something specific. We will attempt to cover as many as we can, but we want to ensure that this list includes only the best balls for the value. We will be looking at little league and regulation balls as well as practice balls. Some of the reviewed balls may not match up with your expectations but remember that we put the value of the ball(s) much higher than anything else. One ball that cost a great deal, but is amazing, may not make the list if something is similar and much less expensive. We are shooting for a general audience here and will make sure to point out all the pros and cons of each ball in the review.
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Here’s simply a great all-around ball that fits exactly to the specifications of MLB for size, weight, and construction. It does come in an “openable” case for signatures, and as with all MLB balls, it’s made in Costa Rica (sorry no “made in the USA” on this one).
With a cork center, these balls are meant for recreational use only. But make no mistake – these are real baseballs (not T-balls). The overall quality of these balls is not stellar. They have been known to deteriorate after a few uses (ie. synthetic leather covering gets ripped or permeated), though several users report longevity of several seasons! I’m guessing that depends on how strong and mature the user might be, and how often they are used in practice. I would buy these with a bit of skepticism and caution, but my frugality probably wouldn’t allow me to pass up at least a one-time purchase and play the odds!
The first ball on our list is a training ball that is regulation sized but softer. It looks the same as a hardball, but it has a cushioned construction that will help newer players get over their fear of taking a hardball to the face. At 9 inches, it falls within regulation, but it is about a half ounce lighter than a regulation ball. The big bonus here is that it acts and feels like a real ball, just softer – and at a killer price based on our research.
We do have a few concerns about this ball, though, and they can’t be overlooked. While these are some of the lowest prices we’ve seen for this type of ball, that may be due to the construction. While most will last a good while, they are prone to tearing at the seams. A few were pretty close to tearing out of the package, but most are good to go for at least a month or two without any real issue. Still, even if you get a dud, just make sure you buy from a place that accepts returns and you will be good to go and at the price for the quality, you can’t go wrong.
- Soft and safer for newer players.
- Extremely affordable.
- Fantastic for practicing catch.
- Quality is suspect.
- Stitching can rip faster than expected.
- Not great for batting practice due to durability concerns.
The Timbows are a fantastic alternative to the SKLZ pick at number one. They may even last significantly longer as their construction is of a higher quality. The only reason they drop down one spot on the list is because of the size of the pack. Consider these our number one picks if you need a more expensive and larger pack of practice balls. These are more, per ball, on average than the SKLZ, but they also last much longer. You will have to make a bigger investment at the start, but you get a full pack of 12 balls. Consider these a tie with number one, based on your needs.
They are also official sized at 9 inches and weigh 5 ounces. They look like a traditional ball, red stitching, and bright white synthetic covering. The entire center is also made of rubber which is a huge plus as that isn’t always the case. There really are few things to dislike about the ball, just understand that these are made for practice and may have a bit more bounce than an actual play ball.
- Extremely well-constructed.
- Not a bad price for a large pack.
- Will take a beating from the younger players and still look new.
- Solid rubber inside.
- A 12 pack may be too big for those just getting into the sport.
- The balls are a bit more expensive than their competition.
Some may complain that these baseballs have the Ripken Baseball League logo stamped on them but don’t let that turn you away from these guys. They are fantastic baseballs and come in at a very fair price. Genuine full-grain leather cover, raised seam, and cork and rubber center, make these as close to an MLB ball as you can get. They react well to curve balls and can take a solid beating when batting.
The biggest drawback to these baseballs is that the seams can get tattered pretty quickly. If you are looking for something that is a perfect practice ball, especially for pitching, these may be the way to go, but keep in mind that they likely won’t last you more than a season or two of practice at best. There are higher quality balls out there, but for this type of ball, you can’t beat the price.
- Feels like the real thing.
- Raised stitching is perfect for pitching practice.
- Genuine leather cover and cork and rubber center.
- The stitching can fray pretty fast.
- Some quality issues such as flat spots have been found.
- Some may dislike the logo stamp.
The first league play ready balls on our list are the Diamond Pros. While they aren’t going to be priced the same as the practice balls, these are the type of balls you will use in collegiate and adult leagues. Leather covers and wool winding make these a high-quality product. The cushioned cork center and DriCore technology will also ensure these last for a while. You also get a one year guarantee against defects in workmanship and materials which makes them a safe purchase.
League play baseballs are a competitive market, but we have to say these are easily the best choice on the market. They aren’t as expensive as some of the better known professional balls, but they are just as good, if not better. Outside of the fact that these are specifically for league play, there are no real cons to this purchase.
- Great baseballs for league play.
- Leather and wool craftsmanship make these feel like high-quality balls.
- Very durable.
- While usable for practice, they are a bit pricey for that.
- Specific use drops them on the list since practice is generally the primary focus for a general purchase.
- The green stamp and red wool make the ball feel like a Christmas ball. (Minor complaint, but aesthetics are important).
The Jugs Lite-Flight baseballs are the first soft lite baseballs on our list and only come in at number five due to the fact that they are best used in a Jugs lite-flite machine. That doesn’t take away from the fact that they are perfect practice balls for younger players or those that want to practice in an enclosed space. They have a sponge-like texture which makes them significantly softer for players that are still afraid of getting in front of the ball, but they are designed to feel like a real ball as far as size goes.
The biggest complaint is the smell. They can have a bit of a mildew smell, and left in a small area they can really start to stick up the place. They are best left in a place that is open. While we expected them to be affected by the wind, they were not, at least not noticeably, which is a huge deal for such a light ball.
- Perfect for young players afraid of the hardball.
- Great for enclosed spaces.
- Ideal for the Jugs Lite-Flite Machine
- Bright yellow makes it easier to track.
- Can smell.
- The sponge-like texture is only good for some practice and will need to be replaced as soon as the player is used to the ball which will require some adjustment due to weight differences.
The Wilson A1010s Blem Baseballs are the second to final pick on our short-list of the best balls for just about any type of player. The advantage here is that you get a professional quality ball at a fraction of the price. The only drawback is that these balls are a bit of a grab bag. They have imperfections as they were used or were not made perfectly, but most are simply dirty or show some wear from a game. Still, they work perfectly if you want to play some free league games or practice with something close to the real thing.
At times, just like a lottery, you are going to get a few that are unusable, but your chances of winning with these are much higher. Most will be covered in grass stains or dirt stains, but you won’t find a better bang for your buck when it comes to real balls for batting practice. They work extremely well if you are looking to practice some pitching as well. All in all, a great purchase if you don’t mind blemishes.
- The real deal at a lower price.
- Most of the balls will be in great shape.
- Already worn in.
- Some of the balls are going to be unusable.
- If blemishes are a problem, move along.
- No real expectations on durability as some have been used more than others.
The bonus review on our list isn’t an actual baseball, but a training tool for baseball players of all ages. As a six-sided “ball” with a rubber design that causes high bounces in random directions, this is a perfect way to develop hand-eye coordination and fast reflexes or agility. The ball itself is about the same size as a baseball, but the real magic is trying to read the ball. There is no real way to know where the ball will be until the last second.
If you have a regular ball, and you practice, you know where that ball is going to go, for the most part. That doesn’t train any type of reactions except the expected reaction of an ideal hit to a specific location. With this, players need to be prepared to make a last-second movement towards a strange bounce and get in front of the ball. It works better on hard surfaces but is serviceable on the field. This is an ideal ball to use for fielding practice but isn’t much use beyond that.
- Great for reflexes.
- Perfect for hand-eye coordination.
- A fun way to keep younger players interested while increasing their skill level.
- Only usable for fielding.
- Works best on hard surfaces and will see a decrease in efficiency on the field.
- Very specific use reduces the likelihood of this being used as often as a regular ball.
Conclusion & Recommendations
This review has covered a number of different types of baseballs (and balls) for different skill sets and types of players. The SKLZ reaction ball, number seven, is perfect for pushing players to a higher skill level while making batting practice and training a bit more fun. At number six, we found a good way to get professional grade baseballs if you don’t mind a little wear and tear. For those looking for something automated, the JUGS brand offers a machine, and balls which we reviewed at number five, as an easy way to help kids get over their fear of the ball while they practice.
Our number one and two picks, the SKLZ and Timbows are essentially equal depending on your need and price point. If you are just trying to find out if your budding player will stick with the game, the SKLZ reduced-impact balls will be a good and affordable way to get them started without too much of an investment. If they are already in for the long haul, the Timbows are a higher quality with a higher price point.
The Rawlings at number three is great for getting a more realistic feel in practice and can even be used in some league games, though likely not regulated leagues. Finally, for those that need a regulation ball, nothing beats the Diamond Baseballs that we put at number four on the list. They offer a solid ball at a decent price, but the quality is second to none.
As with any review, understand that these are our opinions and they may not fit with your own views. Your results may vary, especially with the A1010s. As long as you are purchasing the balls from a retailer that allows returns or exchanges you will be in good shape. Try out a few and use this as a jumping off point for your own research to find something that is a little more in line with your specific needs. The balls on this list are the best in class compared to their competition but there is no perfect ball out there that will meet everyone’s needs. The balls we suggest here, though, should be the perfect starting point for the regular user.