Throwing. Pitching. Catching. Hitting. Basic baseball skills are fundamental to developing your game, but unless you live at the diamond and have a dozen friends at the ready, it can be difficult to practice essential baseball techniques on your own. Training tools give you the capability to strengthen your muscles as you develop the muscle memory you’ll need when it’s game time. But the price of rebounders, weighted balls, and other training aids varies widely – how can you decide on the best baseball net, barricade, or other baseball training tool?
Weighted baseballs are essential to any serious baseball player’s training toolkit – just ask the major league players, who have been using them for decades. An injury is every player’s worst nightmare, and weighted balls are key to getting ramped up before the season so you can get your throwing arm in shape and stay injury free. While weighted baseballs can increase pitch velocity, they aren’t just for pitchers – they will help every player throw farther, harder, and faster, and even give batters feedback on how they’re connecting.
The most important factor when purchasing a weighted ball is, obviously, weight. There are dozens of weighted baseball programs available to help you maximize training with weighted balls. Weighted baseball training programs range in length from six to fourteen weeks, so select one that fits your schedule and your training goals. Then, choose weighted baseballs to match your program. You will likely need more than one weight as you progress through the weighted baseball program.
One quick caveat: weighted balls are not for amateur players. Do not use a weighted ball off a mound, because the elevation increases stress on the arm. Weighted balls are not meant for long-toss or for playing catch. Throw the ball into a tarp, net, or onto the ground.
You want every minute of your practice time to count, so quit spending half your practice chasing down baseballs and invest in a quality baseball net. What makes a high quality baseball net?
Thick netting is essential when you’re throwing, pitching, or hitting at high speeds. Nets are constructed using layers of materials; each layer is called a ply, and the higher the ply, the thicker the net is. Rukket’s popular Sock-It! net uses 7-ply knotless netting so you can keep at it season after season. Debating between knotted or knotless? Knotted nets are easier to repair, but they’re also more likely to break. Stick with a high quality knotless baseball net and you’ll get the most quality and longevity.
Since you’ll be using a baseball net outside, frame materials should be resilient, rustproof and weatherproof. Welded frames are only as good as the welding job. You don’t want a frame that’s coming apart at the seams. The frame should have a thick, sturdy base so it doesn’t topple over when you pitch a fastball or land a power hit. Thicker bases made from heavier metals like steel will give the frame a bit of rigidity and weight, so it’s stable no matter what you throw at it. Stakes are included with many outdoor baseball nets, and they can contribute significantly to the stability.
Size and Structure
Baseball net sizes vary across the board, and your choice will likely depend on the amount of space you have to work with. Nets with more square footage are (literally) bigger targets. You can’t go wrong with a large net as long as it fits into your practice space. Don’t go smaller than 5’ x 5’, though, or you may find yourself owing the neighbors for a broken window.
Most nets use a bow frame so there’s a bit of give to the net. That slight bend to the poles increases the longevity of your baseball net. Players of all different levels can use a flexible baseball net, so you won’t need to search for a new product as your game improves. None of that matters, of course, if you don’t have a high quality net that is attached properly. Avoid nets with bending hooks, pins, or complex parts that are prone to breakage. Durability is the name of the game when it comes to choosing a baseball practice net. Ground stakes are always a plus, since they’ll decrease any wobble – especially if you’re practicing in high winds.
Ease of Use
If you’re looking for something portable, check out the set-up instructions before you purchase your baseball net. Even the lightest baseball net isn’t practical to take with you if you have to bring a hammer and screwdriver set along, too. Your portable baseball net should include a carrying bag.
For maximum user-friendliness, choose a baseball sock net. A sock net collects the balls in one spot – the ‘sock.’ For at-home training, sock nets are almost always preferable to regular nets because you don’t have to chase after the balls as you go. Simply throw, pitch, or hit into the net several times, and then collect them all at once.
A strike zone target is a useful addition to your baseball net. It’s almost impossible to tell exactly where a baseball or softball hit the net, so the strike zone target gives you something to aim for and can drastically improve your accuracy. If a baseball net doesn’t have a strike zone or target, contact the manufacturers to see if one can be added easily. This small addition will make your baseball net exponentially more useful.
Choosing a baseball rebounder net is similar to buying a baseball net in that you want high-quality materials, thick netting, a sturdy base, and easy setup. Rebounder nets, also called pitch backs, are one of the most versatile baseball training tools out there. Players can practice catching, improve agility, develop their reflexes, and perfect toss backs and pop-ups.
Well-made netting and durable construction are essential for any sports net, and rebounders are no different. A wobbly frame can take the sting out of your line drive. If you don’t care about portability, look for something weighty that’s constructed with heavy duty carriage bolts. Want some indoor practice? This rebounder is one of the only pitch backs on the market that includes silicone pads so you can set it up in a gymnasium or basement.
Angles and Adjustability
Rebounders come in two types: stationary and adjustable. A stationary multi-sport rebounder typically offers two angles of attack at once. These are useful as multi-season, multi-player, multi-sport tools. They are truly versatile in that a few simple alterations allow players to simulate any of up to eight angles.
An adjustable pitch back is able to mimic pop-flies and line drives just as you’d see them in an actual game. The angle can be adjusted to switch between pitching angles so you can develop your arm and practice throwing a perfect pitch or drive every time. The hand-eye coordination and muscle memory players can develop by consistently practicing with a rebounder are unmatched.
Some rebounders are designed specifically to reinforce the form necessary for a perfect baseball or softball pitch. Angled edges and a center target can help players focus on exactly where they’re throwing, as any ball not pitched perfectly will go flying.
Baseball net barricades protect players and property from stray balls. A baseball barricade is only as good as its netting. Although it doesn’t take the impact of repeat fastballs like a baseball net or rebounder, the role it plays is vital in keeping the practice environment safe. A barricade with flimsy netting isn’t worth the base it stands on. Look for high-ply, knotless nets that are easy to set up. The base should be heavy and solid; the frame should be sturdy and made of weatherproof, rustproof materials.
Beyond the strength of netting materials, size is the most important aspect when choosing a barricade. How large is the space you want to protect? The more coverage you can get, the better. Backstop netting is versatile enough to use in many different sports, so this is a great investment for coaches, gymnasiums, and multi-sport trainers.
As with so many other things, you get what you pay for when it comes to baseball net materials. There aren’t many stores that carry wide selections of baseball nets, so you’ll likely be purchasing online. In that case, you won’t be able to test the flimsiness of a frame until you actually receive the product. Baseball net reviews are your best guide here. Look for nets that have lots of reviews, and read through them to find a common theme. If several people mention that the baseball net falls over or is too difficult to set up, find a different product!