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Pitching Machine Balls - Guide

By Scott McKirahan

At Pitching Machine Stop, some of the questions we are asked most often relate to the different kinds of balls for pitching machines and what the differences are between them. It’s hard enough choosing the right pitching machine; having to decide which balls will fit which machines and which ones are the right balls for the type of practice you will be doing shouldn’t be something you have to fret over.

On the various product description pages for each pitching machine, we have tried to make it a little easier. Each pitching machine’s full description includes a section that outlines the accessories and balls that can be used with that particular pitching machine.

It is highly recommended that you only use the balls specifically designed by each manufacturer for use with their pitching machines. Balls that work in one manufacturer’s pitching machine may not work as well with a different manufacturer’s machine. Please also note that most pitching machines use hard balls with no seams or seams that are not raised as high as real hard balls, so it is never advisable to use real game balls in any pitching machine - even if it is specifically labeled for use with real baseballs or softballs.

So, half the problem is solved; you can easily see what balls work with what machines. Now, it’s simply a matter of figuring out what each particular ball is and why you might want one type over the other.

Mini Balls

Mini balls are approximately the size of golf balls and are used in practice to develop sharp hand-eye coordination. If you can hit a little ball, it makes things much easier in a game time situation when a regular sized ball is pitched – they look like watermelons coming in compared to a mini ball! Mini balls come in two basic varieties – soft mini balls and fast mini balls:

  • Soft Mini Balls – Soft mini light balls are ideal for practicing in a smaller space – like a garage or basement. They don’t fly as far as fast mini light balls nor do they pitch as fast as the fast light balls do. Because people tend to use the soft mini balls in a more confined space with the pitching machine much closer, the slower ball speed (approximately 40 mph) seems plenty fast enough, since the ball is traveling a much shorter distance from the pitching machine to the “plate.”

  • Fast Mini Balls – Fast mini light balls pitch approximately 50% faster than soft mini light balls do (approximately 60 mph). Made of hard plastic, these balls not only fly faster but they fly farther than soft mini light balls. Although they can certainly be used in smaller spaces like a garage or basement, they simply might pitch too fast to get your bat around in time when a pitching machine is placed close to the “plate” in a confined space. Also, because they are harder, more damage can be done to things like walls (and mom’s favorite vase) so it is not advisable to use these balls in most indoor places.

Lite Balls

Lite balls are the size of a normal baseball and have three different varieties to choose from – soft lite balls, hard lite balls and Slider simulated leather balls.

  • Soft Lite Balls – are softer than the hard poly balls and travel at about 50% less speed than the hard lite balls do. This lower speed ball is ideal for developing the hand-eye coordination of younger hitters.

  • Hard Lite Balls – Made of hard, durable polyurethane, these balls have a dimpled design, allowing them to travel faster and more accurately than any other type of ball.

  • Slider Simulated Leather Balls – Although these can be used in any lite or real baseball pitching machine, the Slider simulated leather ball was specifically designed for the Slider series of pitching machines. These specially designed balls allow machines that throw curves to do so very accurately. The lower profile seams on the ball cause just enough spin that they naturally fly to different areas of the hitting zone, which creates a more random and real batting experience.

"Real" Pitching Machine Baseballs

“Real baseballs” is a bit of a misnomer but they are called that because they can only be used in machines equipped to throw real weight baseballs. Although the "real pitching machine baseballs" are not regulation baseballs, they are the same size and weight of a real baseball and give a batter a true baseball hitting experience. They are available in both poly ball and leather for the Heater pitching machines and in poly ball only for the BATA pitching machines sold on this website.

  • "Real" Poly Baseballs – These pitching machine baseballs are made out of heavy polyurethane. The dimpled design provides superior pitching accuracy.

  • Leather Pitching Machine Baseballs – Made specifically for pitching machines, the low profile seams on these balls create a little bit of movement on a pitch, which better simulates real hitting conditions. This type of ball is much better at producing a real curve when used with pitching machines that throw curves.

Softballs

There are three kinds of softballs to choose from – 12 inch lite softballs, 12 inch "real" softballs and 11 inch "real" softballs. The “real” softballs are real in the sense that they are similar in weight to regulation softballs. "Real" pitching machine softballs are dimpled to provide greater pitching accuracy. They are made specifically for pitching machines and will not degrade the wheels as much as an actual regulation softball will. Regulation softballs have especially thin covers and are not recommended for use in any pitching machine. Not only do their seams damage pitching machine wheels, but the covers on regulation softballs are known to tear off very quickly if they are used in pitching machines.

  • 12 Inch Lite Softballs - Made of durable polyurethane, these balls have a dimpled design, allowing them to travel faster than the heavier real balls with pinpoint accuracy.

  • 11 Inch "Real" Softballs – Made of super solid polyurethane, these balls have a slightly smaller diameter than the regulation softballs, allowing them to travel faster than their 12 inch counterparts. The slightly smaller size also helps improve hand-eye coordination and makes hitting the slightly larger 12 inch regulation ball seem easier.

  • 12 Inch "Real" Softballs - Made of super solid polyurethane, these balls are the same size and approximate weight of regulation softballs. The dimpled design allows them to travel with incredible accuracy.

Real Regulation Baseballs and Softballs

There are several pitching machines on this website that can technically throw real, regulation baseballs and/or softballs. Although real balls can be used in these machines, it is NOT advisable to use them. Not only will the seams on regulation balls seriously degrade the wheels of a pitching machine very quickly, the paint on the balls comes off on the wheels, making them so slick, they cannot properly grip balls after becoming coated in the paint. Even BATA, manufacturer of the pitching machines that the pros use, strongly urges you to use their pitching machine balls and not real, regulation balls!

The seams on real baseballs and softballs also create an uneven surface, resulting in highly inaccurate pitches. The glue that is used in conjunction with the seams to hold the leather to the ball also becomes an issue because of the pressure that pitching machines exert on balls. Very quickly, regulation balls will become "soft" when the glue becomes broken up. This often results in the covers literally being ripped off of regulation balls when they are thrown from pitching machines.

Finally, this can not be emphasized strongly enough, if you do decide to use actual, regulation balls, only use top-of-the-line real leather balls. Cheap leather balls and balls made of synthetic materials can severely damage a pitching machine. DO NOT USE THEM!