Baseball players spend a lot of time on their feet, so having the perfect pair of cleats is essential. Players want something that will dig into the soil when they step into the batter’s box; they want a pair that can maintain traction when a pop-fly ball shoots into the sky and through the grass. Trust me when I say that cleats matter. They are necessary for every player, and they need to be analyzed by each player. Nothing scientific, just the basics for every little league player. And what are the basics? Those are TPU cleats.
What are TPU Baseball Cleats?
Thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, is standard for little league cleats made of sturdy plastic. Thanks to the specific arrangement of the spikes, they’re molded for maximum speed on the field. And like other athletic gear, they’re built to provide comfort, traction, and longevity. Depending on the player’s age, most TPUs will last a little leaguer more than one season. The hard plastic is strong; however, it has limitations that rubber cleats can handle better than the competition.
Rubber is more useful in mud and wet conditions; however, baseball games stop when the weather gets out of control. Too much rain will delay a game indefinitely, so the rubber doesn’t matter. Some players claim that their rubber cleats are more comfortable but aren’t as effective with traction. I don’t have a perfect answer for this, but I will say that TPU cleats appear to have a sharper definition on the cleat than rubber. And if I can be honest, I want a sharp cleat that will dig into the soil when I need to move quickly.
Who Makes TPU?
Everyone makes TPUs. They’re one of the most popular little league cleats because of the cheap cost of production. That might sound bad, but the low-cost benefits both the producers and the purchasers: companies can develop new designs, and players can purchase new cleats when their feet grow without feeling guilty about the price. Luckily for you, TPU cleats are mass-produced, so feel free to shop around for a good deal. More about that later.
When picking the right shoe for you or your little leaguer, there are a few things to consider. Comfort, size, and design–it’s that simple. Most TPUs are constructed so that the outer region of a player’s foot has spikes. The cleat works like a blade that can dig into different kinds of soil. Think of how hard it would be to run across the sandy infield with regular shoes: no traction and slipping all over the place. These outside blades help the player sprint as fast as possible; they also allow the player to grip the floor when swinging the bat. Remember, strong footing matters.
Price of Popular TPUs
I know I said these cleats are cheap to make and often cheap to buy, but not all are cheap. Don’t worry; lots of big shoe companies produce TPUs. Big-name shoe companies like Adidas, New Balance, and Nike make them, so they’re easy to find online or in a sports store.
New Balance (NB)
Over the last ten years, I’ve seen more and more kids sporting New Balance TPUs. When I was a kid, people wore Nike; when I was a teen, people wore Adidas, and now, people are wearing New Balance. NB cleats are comfortable, strong, and can take the abuse on the field. For little league players, they are trendy, which typically means higher prices. Some New Balance cleats go for $150, and others go for $50. You have to shop around, find the sales, or look for last year’s models. If you want popular cleats, there’s nothing wrong with buying one designed for the previous season.
I see lots of players wearing Adidas still. They’re easy to find, have a long history of creating quality gear, and are very affordable. To be honest, Adidas shoes are built with style in mind first. If you have a kid who wants a pair of flashy cleats–nothing wrong with that–look at Adidas. Like other brands, they have high tops and low tops, but unlike some companies, Adidas uses a lot of bright reds, oranges, and blues. I KNOW THEY HAVE TO BE Adidas whenever I see orange cleats on the field.
As for the price, these are some of the most affordable, high-quality cleats on the market. You can find new designs for $25 bucks. I can tell you from personal experience that they’re great cleats. If you’re interested in spending a few more dollars, the company sells some for over $100.
Under Armour (UA)
Under Armour is another company that has become very popular over the last ten years. The company stresses quality and style for everything they make. I’ve seen many little league players wearing them because they look nice and are affordable. Parents and guardians who know their baseballer is growing don’t need to invest money in an expensive shoe that won’t fit in six months; look to UA because a nice pair of cleats can cost $30. Yup, they’re affordable.
How to Select a Pair
Cleats are a lot like the shoes on your feet: size and style. If you know the size of your little leaguer, add half a size to that, and now you have a perfect fit. Well, almost perfect. Baseball players can be on their feet for extended periods. During this time, feet swell because of the additional blood circulating through the feet. If you buy a pair of cleats that match the size of the baseball player, then the shoes will be too small before the end of the game.
Many parents have claimed that their little leaguer doesn’t spend enough time on the field for this to matter. Other parents say their kid can’t run in a bigger shoe. Both statements are factual, and my only answer is this: it’s really up to the player. If the player is okay with a tight cleat, let them wear it. Half a size isn’t a big difference; most players don’t notice it. If your player is a catcher, I can bet you dollars to donuts that they will appreciate half a size larger. Trust me when I say this: their feet swell, and catchers don’t need more pain or discomfort.
Are TPU Cleats Allowed Everywhere?
These cleats are allowed in youth baseball and softball leagues around the USA including but not limited to Little League, Pony, USSA, Cal Ripken, and the Youth Softball Association. Hard plastic is considered safe for all youth organizations and is standard amongst non-professional players. Even if a player gets cleated with a TPU shoe, the chances of causing serious harm are lower than metal cleats, which aren’t always allowed in youth sports. TPU is a safe bet if you’re shopping for a new pair before the season starts.
Can I Always Wear TPU on the Field?
TPU cleats are great, but you can’t wear them everywhere. Turf and artificial fields are built for special cleats with tiny hair-like spikes on the bottom. Unlike grass and dirt, the plastic material on Turf and artificial fields is solid. If you wore cleats on these plastic fields, you could cause thousands of dollars in damages. Think of it this way: a natural grass field can start at $150,000, and a Turf field can start around $300,000. You don’t want that repair bill from your child’s little league.
Turf and artificial fields are uncommon in most suburban areas. But if you’re about to buy cleats for a new season in a new city, check out littleague.org for details on your local leagues. They have everything you’ll need to know, including where the fields are and their design.
How to Care for Your TPUs
Keep the bottoms clean for the best results. We’ve all seen pro-players stomp their feet and hammer the edges with their bats. They do that to break off the build-up on the bottoms. Typically, the sand on the field won’t break down your cleat, but it will remove centimeters away from the spike, which your player needs when running.
If your shoe starts to smell, and sometimes they do, do not put them in the washing machine. The shoes will probably survive a light washing, but do you want to risk it? The shoes weren’t made to be submerged in water, nor were they made to handle high heat in a dryer. If you have to wash them, do it with a wet rag. If your cleats get wet by some chance, hang them outside to dry in the sun. Avoid using a blow-dryer because you could break down the plastics in the shoe with an extended period of high heat. The plastic edges peeling off on the field are the last thing you want.
Last note on care: take them off when the game is over. I’ve had many young players keep their cleats on after a game because they didn’t bring a change of shoes. I’ve seen those same kids run on cement and fall on their faces. Also, blacktops and sidewalks grind down the spikes, causing them to age faster than the player will want.
Altering Your Cleats for Speed
Cleats are easy to care for, but somehow, people get strange ideas about how to care for their cleats and alter their construction for advanced purposes. I’m unsure where the myths started with cutting off certain spikes for maximum speed. I’ll tell you this: you cannot modify TPU cleats, nor is there much you can do to make your player better with weird alterations. I’ve met several little leaguers who cut the front spikes off their cleats to make them faster. I once had a first baseman who sanded down his right cleat so his foot could slide when he had to reach for the ball. These are the only two that stand out in my head, but trust me, I’ve heard other stories. Please do not try to alter the cleats. Cutting off the front and sanding down the cleat will only cost you more money at the sports store.
The only way to alter your cleats beneficially is through use. Your little leaguer’s cleats will naturally become changed over time. Also, don’t worry about what other cleats look like on the bottom. The formation on the bottom of the cleats is standard, and certain cleats will get shorter than others over time. Don’t worry; this is a good thing. The more the cleats are used on the field, the better they operate on your player’s feet. If your player leans right, that same side might start to wear down, making the cleat more comfortable. The same thing goes for how the player runs, slides, jumps, etc.
Four Things to Consider
- Level of comfort
These four factors need to be considered. The first two are the most critical for your player to have a successful season. I know price matters a lot, but cleats are very affordable nowadays, so consider the other two on the list first.
Hopefully, you know more about TPUs and how to pick them out. If I could provide one suggestion for all buyers, it would be to try them on. No, you won’t get the full benefit of the shoe in a sports store, but you will get to feel them, see them, and recognize the difference, and there is one.